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OPM's John Berry: President's Day holiday not cancelled

By Ed O'Keefe

Monday's President's Day federal holiday will not be canceled, Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry said Thursday during a washingtonpost.com live chat.

John Berry
OPM Director John Berry. (Marvin Joseph/Post)

Berry also said he does not consult President Obama on his decisions to close D.C.-area offices and that easy access to e-mail and the Internet means OPM will have to reconsider its estimate that taxpayers lose roughly $100 million per day in lost productivity from federal workers stuck at home due to the weather.

Read highlights from the chat below:

Washington, D.C.: 2 questions:

1) Will the federal government be open on Friday?

2) Why in the world can a decision not be made earlier in the day? Most of us could predict the decisions for most of the past 4 days, without waiting til 7 p.m. every day.

John Berry: We have scheduled a Council of Government call for 6 p.m this evening where we will get the most information for tomorrow.

We've already moved it (COG call) from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m. We're making it already the night before. We've attempted to provide a quicker decision by holding the calls at 6 p.m. rather than 4 a.m. and any earlier than that the information is not as accurate as necessary.

--

Snowbound in Alexandria, Va.: How is the productivity cost calculated? Does OPM have this information on their website? If not, can it be published online?

John Berry: The number that is used currently is woefully out of date and does not reflect emergency personnel, essential personnel, or teleworking employees and therefor overstates cost of government closure. When we are clear of the storm we will be updating this calculation and will certainly put that on our Web site for both comments and distribution.

--

Rockville, Md.: I would have telecommuted the past four days and got lots of work done but my agency requires that you work for a full year before you can telecommute. In my last position in state government, I telecommuted almost exclusively for three years. Why the arbitrary one year requirement? (my agency is BPHC in HHS).

John Berry: We, OPM, has no one-year requirement and I hope that after this experience your agency will appreciate the importance value, productivity allowing as many workers as possible to telework without arbitrary restrictions such as a one-year delay.

Annapolis, Md.: Mr. Berry I want to commend you decision to allow federal workers to stay home over the duration of the two storms. You can make up for lost time but not lost lives.

How does Metro closing above ground affect your decision on the status of the federal government?

John Berry: It is one of the important factors but not the only factor. It definitely impacts the ability for people to commute and so it is certainly part of the decision equation.

--

Anonymous: Is President Obama consulted when you make the decision to close the government?

John Berry: No.

--

Trevor, Wisc.: Were employees encouraged to take their computers home so they could telework?

John Berry: Yes, and in fact, one of the lessons learned from the snowstorm is that we need to encourage agencies to acquire more portable, modern computers that will make it easier and more secure to work from home.

--

Annapolis, Md.: Will the federal government take away the President's Day holiday on Monday due to this week's closings?

John Berry: No.

--

Detroit, Mich.: It's interesting to learn more about how the call to close the government is made in your office. Would your office (and thus you) also make the call for federal offices in other cities or is that role delegated to someone local?

John Berry: Great question. It is delegated to local groups called the Federal Executive Boards and each major city has one. The represent the federal agencies in those areas and they are empowered to make the call in those areas.

--

Germantown, Md.: As in 1955, will furloughs be put in place to cover the costs of the government shut down during the snowstorm?

John Berry: No.

--

Tysons Corner, Va.: When the government is closed, do employees have access to the buildings (as they do on the weekends) so that they can pick stuff up to work on over the weekend? While I admittedly have enjoyed the past few days, I know that it means late nights next week.

John Berry: They need to check with their agency. Each agency has different security rules so before you try to come in please check with your local agency to make sure you have access.

Read the full chat here and leave your thoughts in the comments section below

By Ed O'Keefe  | February 11, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Administration  
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Next: Back to work for the feds on Friday

Comments

It's good to hear Director Berry state that the $100 million/day in lost productivity figure will have to be re-visited. Elsewhere in the interview, he says that daily payroll is $102 million, so it seems that this estimate was simply a a round-off of the payroll--thus assuming that NO ONE was working from home! Clearly in need of a major update.

But Ed, at the risk of sounding antagonistic, why did it require a live chat with Berry to get this information. Why didn't you--as one of the few reporters covering the federal workforce for DC's newspaper of record--ask him earlier where this number came from? Why did you simply repeat it day after day, even while commenters here asked over and over about the calculations behind it? Couldn't you have simply asked how the number was reached, or when it was from, or whether it included telework?

Posted by: matt731 | February 11, 2010 12:13 PM | Report abuse

But, if the $100M figure isn't correct, what will Ed have to write about whenever it snows in the future?

Posted by: Bious | February 11, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

The $100 million also ignores the amount of work that will be made up in the days after the government reopens.

People are not that busy at work. Maybe a little less time talking about Lost or the Redskins, but the "work" will be made up.

Posted by: member8 | February 11, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

If the lost payroll is correct- we have too many people employed in D.C.Every other place is reducing workforce but not the gov.payroll- the one we taxpayers assume.The suggestion that computers be purchased for those not having them- that blows my mind.We are not talking about $25 expenditures!!

Posted by: djnumerouno | February 11, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Couple things:

"the Internet means OPM will have to reconsider its estimate that taxpayers lose roughly $100 million per day in lost productivity from federal workers stuck at home due to the weather."

I'd say Barry said it more forcefully than that. Saying he's going to "reconsider" the figure almost makes it seem like he's approaching it casually. He said numerous time in the Q&A that it is antiquated and needs a rigorous re-evaluation.

Second, djnumerouno said:

"If the lost payroll is correct- we have too many people employed in D.C.Every other place is reducing workforce but not the gov.payroll- the one we taxpayers assume."

Many in the federal government in the D.C. area earn high wages (one of the reasons the local median wage is so high). A good deal of these people are high-grade professionals.

If anything in the past two days has been "antiquated," it is the tired notion that federal employees are good-for-nothing slackers. Many of these people, including the high-grade professionals I mentioned, are supremely dedicated and hard working.

Personally, I'd rather have brilliant, hard-working, and highly capable people who demand a high wage come into civil service than have an army of mediocre hires that will cost the country more in the long run.

Posted by: tsottek | February 11, 2010 5:26 PM | Report abuse

tsottek: "If anything in the past two days has been "antiquated," it is the tired notion that federal employees are good-for-nothing slackers. Many of these people, including the high-grade professionals I mentioned, are supremely dedicated and hard working.

Personally, I'd rather have brilliant, hard-working, and highly capable people who demand a high wage come into civil service than have an army of mediocre hires that will cost the country more in the long run."

@tsottek. Thanks for your kind words. As someone with an Ivy League education and two masters degrees, I work for a lot less than my private sector colleagues because I love my job and I work hard to do good things for this country. It has made me sad to read some of the comments posted on here over the past few days. And yes, I've been teleworking this whole week.

Posted by: chrisny2 | February 11, 2010 5:38 PM | Report abuse

@tsottek

Thank you.

Posted by: DrewinAlexandria | February 11, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

It's really disappointing that the "$100 million lost per day government is closed" number was used consistently by the Federal Eye during the storm. According to Mr. Berry, the number isn't accurate. Consistently citing this figure wasn't responsible reporting. The Washington Post can do better. Even if the writer is irresponsible, aren't there responsible editors checking citations like this? Using inacurrate figures like this damages the image of the federal government and of government workers.

Posted by: annapolitangrl | February 11, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

It's been a hard week for the bureaurats. They need a vacation to rest after all of this resting.

Posted by: member8 | February 11, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

As a fed who teleworked all 4 days pretty much full-time, I really hope OPM figures out a way of factoring in the work that was accomplished by those who had power, Internet connectivity and work that could be done from home. It makes it more imperative for govt agencies to develop a more rational and encouraging approach to teleworking.

Posted by: Quietvillager | February 11, 2010 7:51 PM | Report abuse

As a taxpayer I feel terrible about paying Berry anything

Feel sorry for you Feds who must take direction from this incompetent manager who has absolutely NO work ethics

Posted by: syoung29 | February 12, 2010 6:25 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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