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Eye Opener: For the feds going to work today

By Ed O'Keefe


A man rides his bicycle towards the Capitol Building in Washington on Monday. (Reuters)

Eye Opener

Updated 9:12 a.m. ET
Happy Tuesday! And Happy Federal Snow Day 2.0! But many federal employees still have to show up for work today, despite the weather.

Need proof? The Post's David Cho reports that shortly after the federal government announced that it would close for Monday -- cue the yelping for joy around Washington -- the office of the executive secretary for Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner sent a message to its staff saying that he planned to keep his Tuesday schedule.

Cue the groans.

It's not much better at the Government Printing Office, where about 200 printers and security officers were at work Monday, The Post's Carol Morello and N.C. Aizenman report. Sheley Welcher, 40, an assistant production manager whose husband drove her into work from their home in Clinton, said the White House and Congress had several reports that needed printing.

Though not every federal office could do it, this week will certainly revive and refocus the debate on teleworking. Taxpayers lose $100 million each day in lost productivity when the government shuts down. (PLEASE NOTE: The Eye agrees that closing is justified for safety reasons, but the cost is still notable.)

So does your federal office encourage telework? What would be the effect on the workforce and productivity if the federal government allowed more telework? send your extended answers to federaleye@washingtonpost.com and participate in the poll below.

We’ll publish some answers on Friday on The Post's new The Federal Worker page. You can also send along suggested questions.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Cabinet and Staff News: First Lady Michelle Obama launches a fight against fast. An interview with newly minted GSA Administrator Martha N. Johnson. Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg says he's not headed to Georgetown. Is the current U.S. ambassador to Indonesia headed next to Pakistan? Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) lifts his hold on most Obama administration nominees. Daniel Weinberg, the man behind the nation's census. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) objects to an NLRB nominee.

COMMERCE DEPARTMENT:
U.S. proposes new climate service: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service, modeled loosely on the 140-year-old National Weather Service, would provide forecasts to farmers, regional water managers and businesses affected by changing climate conditions.

DEFENSE DEPARTMENT:
Army bases face funding gap this year: Base operations accounts fund a range of activities that support soldiers and their families, including child care centers, utilities and maintenance programs, fitness centers, barracks and dining facilities.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY:
U.S. unveils plan to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes: Among the tactics in a $78.5 million, 25-point plan: Navigational locks in Illinois waterways that lead to Lake Michigan will be opened less frequently, and officials will more aggressively search for and kill the fish when they are found.

FEDERAL RESERVE:
Federal Reserve hopes clear exit strategy will boost market confidence: Leaders and private economists expect the jobless rate to remain high for years, despite a dip in the unemployment rate to 9.7 percent in January, and the Fed could make the situation worse if it moves too abruptly.

GOVERNMENT WORK/LIFE/OPERATIONS:
Labor coalition raises questions about generic drug prices for some feds: Some federal employees enrolled in Blue Cross Blue Shield health insurance plans could be paying more for generic prescription drugs through a program run by CVS Pharmacy than they would if they purchased a discount program membership through the chain's retail stores.

GSA set to announce new federal cafeteria contracts: The effort is part of an administration drive to improve the health of federal employees and direct government dollars to companies that embrace green practices.

Most agencies expand staffs in 2011: The difference results from the Census Bureau, which will add hundreds of thousands of temporary workers for 2010 for its decennial population count.

Cost-cutting ideas from the front lines: The budget request includes 20 money-saving ideas culled from the more than 38,000 suggestions employees made last fall in the first-ever SAVE Award contest.

INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY:
Obama team debated treating Detroit suspect Abdulmutallab as enemy combatant: Should he have been considered an enemy combatant under the law of war and placed in military detention? The same question raised by senior Republicans last week was considered during a Jan. 6 National Security Council meeting led by President Obama in the White House Situation Room.

JUSTICE DEPARTMENT:
Lawyers back creating new immigration courts: The American Bar Association called Monday for Congress to scrap the current system and create a new, independent court for immigration cases.

NASA:
Shuttle blasts off for Space Station: It was the second effort to get the Endeavour off the ground, 24 hours after clouds over the launching pad scrubbed Sunday’s attempt.

For human spaceflight, can measured beat bold?: The Obama administration has joined the quest to keep humans flying in space. But will its measured proposals, announced last week, succeed where others fell so far short?

Manned flights beyond Earth's orbit unlikely until at least 2020: The Obama Administration's revised manned space program doesn't envision U.S. astronauts venturing beyond Earth's orbit until at least 2020, and perhaps years later, according to NASA chief Charles Bolden.

TSA:
Airport scanners stir fears over security lines: The government's plan to install body scanners in dozens of airports could lengthen security lines and congest terminals, airline and airport officials warn.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | February 9, 2010; 6:39 AM ET
Categories:  Congress, Eye Opener  
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Next: Postal Service plans normal Tuesday service

Comments

Please stop with the continuing reference to one hundred million in lost productivity. Unless youa re willing to discuss what that actually means it just inflames. No loss of life just to get to work is worth any amount of gained productivity. People don't have power and can't get out of their homes. Should they really be trying to get to work? How many lives lost are ok from accidents? Metro can't even get people there so should we all drive downtown where there is no place to park? What about the safety issue of thousands of people packing Metro platforms because trains that are running are 1/2 hour apart. How many people will get hurt from that.

So please, let's discuss all the issues and stop throwing the stupid number around.

Posted by: happydad3 | February 9, 2010 7:33 AM | Report abuse

In addition to encouraging telework, maybe the storm would encourage investing in Metro so it would have enough resources to get itself up and running.

Posted by: dc_attorney | February 9, 2010 7:57 AM | Report abuse

You know, there are a lot of govvies who work pretty much exclusively with sensitive, if not classified, information. Teleworking just isn't a good idea for a lot of them.

Posted by: clarkjerome | February 9, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Key staff in my agency are communicating and conducting business non-stop since the storm. We telecommute and offer classes to prompt telecommuting. Our social media sites continue to generate responses and suggestions regardless of conditions. There are few barriers (beyond a power outage) to keep us from working and communicating. We announced a new radio program this morning regarding community involvement in crime control at http://media.csosa.gov.
Len Sipes-CSOSA

Posted by: leonardsipes | February 9, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

Ed, you've been using the $100 million figure for a blanket closing. Now you mention that many offices are still open--but you still use the $100 million number. With those offices open, and many people working from home (myself included), mustn't it be less than $100 million that's being lost?

(And that, of course, is if one accepts the $100 million figure, for which I've seen no background or citation.)

Posted by: matt731 | February 9, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

I and half a dozen colleagues have been telecommuting for two years now and all are agreed our productivity completely eclipses our office-bound colleagues. I would just encourage all in management to look closely at how much is wasted in commuting and around the water-cooler.

Posted by: whonix | February 9, 2010 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Seriously. PLEASE stop throwing that 100mil number around when there is nothing stating how you get to that number. Is the $100m the salary costs? If so is it taking into account the energy savings that would be in effect when 99% of the workforce doesn't show up. The estimated savings that emergency and road crews will experience when they are able to more efficiently do their work?

If it's really $100m then I will sit back and shake my head and say "hey we need to get people to start teleworking!". But I would REALLY like to see a breakdown of that number b/c at present all it is doing is producing a lot of scorn from the people that take everything they see in print as gospel....

Posted by: lisamarie2 | February 9, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

The entire government needs to figure out how to make remote access a reality for all workers. Computer security rules prevents remote access at many agencies. So the question is not only a management one, it is technology one as well.

Posted by: erbele | February 9, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I would love to telework, but it isn't encouraged by my agency. It's a source of a lot of frustration for many of us, and we're hoping that this storm causes upper management to rethink the policy. I keep thinking of the deadlines that are quickly approaching and how stressful work will be when I finally can get back to the office.

Posted by: runnergirl03 | February 9, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

I would love to work from home, unfortunately with my job there is a lot of PII which makes it impossible to work from my house.

Posted by: rmk1122 | February 9, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

I want you federal workers in the office, and supervised.

Posted by: FredKnowsBest | February 9, 2010 9:46 AM | Report abuse

"• Cabinet and Staff News: First Lady Michelle Obama launches a fight against fast."

Fast? I think you mean "fat."

Please, Washington Post, hire some editors to actually edit, or just cut this guy loose completely. In addition to being incapable of proofing his articles, he's hardly a reporter, just an instigator trying to bait federal employees into posting negative comments with his unsubstantiated statistics of how much money the government is losing by NOT placing their employees in danger.

Posted by: starbuck13 | February 9, 2010 9:49 AM | Report abuse

I've been a full-time telecommuter for over a year now (along with many hundreds of others at my agency).

It is great for everyone. I am more productive at my job and the government doesn't have to pay for my office and electricity.

I've been working full time through this whole storm (actually some paid overtime, too).

Posted by: jerryravens | February 9, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

There is no loss. Any work not completed this week will be completed next week. Studies show people work 2-3 hours per workday. There is no loss.

Even Metro should be better off since they normally are a money-losing operation. Fewer passengers = fewer losses.

Posted by: member8 | February 9, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Telework = paid vacation day. People in my office love that one day a week "off" to do chores, shopping, etc., and not ruin the weekend! Of course THEY'LL tell you how much more they get done...just not Office stuff! LOL

Posted by: snowbucks | February 9, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Another aspect of the telework/productivity argument is that the design of most Federal offices SUCKS! I work in a brand new building, and the desks are falling apart, computers fail, lighting is inadequate, air temparature control is poorly regulated. Who in God's name designs an office in dark blues and greys with dim lighting? I get headaches the first five minutes I am there.

Posted by: Wallenstein | February 9, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

Telework is definitely not encouraged in my office. I don't mind the amount of security screens for logging on, but half the time you can't get onto the server and then the remote server randomly kicks you off.

Posted by: NovaCath1 | February 9, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I don't participate in my section's stingy telework program yet, but hope to soon. I haven't had high speed internet access at home in the past, which kept me out. But the section policy is one specific day per 2 wk. pay period, with no rescheduling of that one day. If something precludes you from teleworking that day, that's it until the next pay period.

That is not a policy of the entire Agency. Our units were tasked with setting a policy, and that's what our managers came up with.

Paid leave is fun, sure, but our work in national and international, so having the DC area component out of commission slows everyone down, and we will be playing catch up back at the office.

Despite what the government haters who post here think, government does have short turn around times, immediate needs, and a lack of redundancy, at least in some Agencies. There isn't anyone else who can cover some of our positions.

Will the world stop spinning on its axis because we can't work? Heck no. But our customers, the tax paying public or our trading partners, will be inconvenienced and potentially lose income. It's hard enough to schedule vacation.

I brought my laptop home, may try to catch up a little while I'm home anyway, between rounds of digging snow.

Posted by: trichobezoar | February 9, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

There is a double standard at my agency, where teleworking is concerned, and no one in a position of authority seems to care. The Federal employees are given the opportunity to telework - at least one day a week, often more - but the civilian contractor employees are forced to commute to the office each day. We are told the teleworking policy does not cover civilian contractors, so nothing can be done. This double standard is ridiculous, both from the standpoint of the types of work the contractors are performing (much of which could easily be done from home), and from the perspective of the natural resources and time wasted each day on the commute. Someone really should undertake a study (or an investigation, your choice) into the wholesale wastefulness caused by this practice. Thank you.

Posted by: niceFLguy | February 9, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Treasury pays telework lipservice. Officially, it's available, but the inside story is no one can do it. "Up to management" is what we hear, and management, for the most part, is old school and won't approve it. My job is 100% telework doable, but no. Treasury (Departmental Offices) is horrible about this. Hell, we just got AWS last fall. I remember AWS from the 1990s!

Posted by: RB1019 | February 9, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I successfully telework everyday and am working and being productive today. My agency dabbles in it, but there's still not a serious effort to really make it work and a lot of hurdles.

Posted by: RobRoy1 | February 9, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I work for the Executive Office of US Trustees, which does not permit teleworking. It's totally stupid because I would be happy to work from home on snow days. I've never understood the basis for their objection and perhaps this storm will cause them to rethink their policy (wishful thinking - I totally doubt it). People can and do work effectively from home. I did it from my last job. Numerous studies have shown that telework does not result in loss of productivity. In fact, I know from experience that being able to come downstairs, log on to the network, and start working in the morning without having to deal with a long commute and all the things you need to do to get out of the house in the morning - getting dressed for a professional office, making breakfast and eating it before work, packing a lunch to take to work - saves me over two hours and would have me working long before my current start time.

Posted by: kgirl2 | February 9, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Really? People use the term "telework" and "approved telesite" in DC when everyone else in the US calls it telecommuting? I just imagine a teletubbie in their little telepod...it can't just be me.

I do agree...breaking down the $100 million is necessary, and laying out why it makes good business sense to close (metro limited, power out, uncleared roads, schools closed, etc.). I would put dollars to doughnuts that they just multiplied the number of Federal Employees in DC x a guesstimated labor rate and came up with $100 million. And honestly, that's not accurate.

Posted by: PScaz | February 9, 2010 11:30 AM | Report abuse

I'm a federal employee and I have worked both days that the government has been "closed." I telework on a regular basis anyway (usually 2-3 days per week). There is no reason that many government employees cannot be teleworking during these storms. All I need to do my job is an internet connection, a phone, and a computer. My agency issues us laptops. As long as I have the internet, I can work. I have not lost much productivity at all.

The key for our agency has been a robust remote access system that makes it just like working in the office. This enables employees to work efficiently regardless of their location. The second important factor has been an environment that supports teleworking. Managers are generally accepting of teleworking and people do their best to accommodate all team members no matter their location. Finally, we have other tools that make teleworking a possibility, such as phone forwarding, permanent teleconference lines, and secure web meetings.

For myself and several other colleagues, the ability to telework has been the PRIMARY reason we have stayed at our agency. It allows us to have more time with our families, get more work done, and allow us to stay safely at home when the weather looks ominous. Also, it has given me more flexibility with regard to where I live. If I don't have to battle Marc and Metro every day, I am more willing to live a bit farther from the city.

Posted by: Stats | February 9, 2010 11:33 AM | Report abuse

your questionnaire was much too limited. my old office technically offered teleworking, but managers actively discouraged it, making even emergency telework difficult

Posted by: B4chesordr | February 9, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I work for The Department of Education and I'm teleworking today, even though my office is closed. I think we all should--if we can. I want to promote telework and this (today) is a great way to prove its worth. This would make it easier for OPM to call snow days when it's too dangerous to commute.

We are fortunate to have good-paying Federal jobs, especially in this economy. Let's be mature professionals. That means not jumping up and down like school kids on a snow day. Instead, let's put a dent in that $100 million figure we keep hearing about.

Posted by: Scubaquad | February 9, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I thought readers were being whiny but you really do throw 100 million figure into every single story about the federal government and snow. It's gratuitous and unnecessary. I don't see a dollar figure thrown in "just because" every time with other subjects in the Post such as the multiple wars we're fighting.

Posted by: loved1 | February 9, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I want to ad that I came from an Agency that had one of the best telecommuting systems I have ever seen, in the public or private sector. This was begun in earnest for Y2K, and then kicked into high gear for 9/11. The only thing that slows them down would be an event so big that it would wipe out all utilities and communication services were wiped out for the entire mid-Atlantic. And it's not even a military or intelligence agency!

Agencies without robust telecommuting arrangements cannot function in any kind of emergency, and there is no excuse for that. Their managers should be sacked immediately.

Posted by: Wallenstein | February 9, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

If I could work from home, I would but due to the sensitivity of my work, I am not allowed.

Posted by: Bious | February 9, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I think it was kind of silly to close today. Plenty of people in the immediate DC area could have gotten to work, and if not, well, that's what the liberal leave policy is for. If you deem it too unsafe to get on the roads, or if you don't want to worry about where to park, then stay home! And true, some might not have the leave to cover it, but there are plenty of other non-governemental workers who don't get vacation days at all. They either work or they don't get paid. We seriously have it easy.

Could I have gone to work today? Yes. Did I consider it? No. I currently have no hot projects, no looming deadlines and most imporantantly, there was no incentive for me to go. I get pad the same if I go or if I stay home in my jammies. Maybe OPM could encourage agencies to create time-off award policies for those non-essential employees that go in when administrative leave is granted.

My agency has teleworking for supervisors and for those who are considered emergency essential. They say they don't have the resources to purchase laptops for everyone. And quite frankly, even if the money was there, they probably wouldn't be able to connect to the servers on a reliable basis, seeing as the few people who do have laptops are always complaining that they can't log in.

Really, it CAN'T possibly be as hard as agencies make it out to be. Agencies need to make a committment to teleworking in order to make it sucessful. Until they are fully prepared to buy the equipment and upgrade the IT networks, we will continue to have this conversation. Or maybe, when the Boomers decide to finally retire, we can get some younger people in positions of power to make teleworking a true possibility for those that do not work with critical data.

Posted by: ace2233 | February 9, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

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