Federal leave for severe weather revamped
With temperatures plummeting and flurries spotted across the Washington area in recent days, the Obama administration is mandating that the government allow more federal employees to telework during severe weather.
The revamping of the federal leave policy aims to accommodate the thousands of federal employees in the Washington area who must report for work regardless of the weather. The changes account for a new federal law requiring the wider use of teleworking.
Officials with the Office of Personnel Management, the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and regional and state government offices announced the changes Wednesday morning.
"It's a lot more than me just looking out the window in the morning," said OPM Director John Berry, who is responsible for deciding when federal offices in the Washington area need to close or dismiss workers early during severe weather or other emergencies.
The biggest change is the renaming of the work status once known as "unscheduled leave" to "Open with unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework."
"The idea is pretty simple, pretty straightforward: If you can't get to the office, you can still work from home," Berry said.
Passage of the Telework Enhancement Act permitted the change. Obama signed the bill last week. It requires federal agencies to establish telework policies and to designate a senior official to oversee the work option.
"President Obama stated clearly that our goal is that our government should never close," Berry said, noting that adding telework to the unscheduled leave policy should help enforce its usage and keep the government operating at an almost-normal pace.
Officials also decided to rename the status known as "Closed" to "Closed to the public," since federal workers are still on the job even when offices are closed to the public. Many of the employees, most of whom work for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, often sleep on cots in the hallways to ensure the continuity of government operations, Berry said.
The director's decisions on the work schedule officially apply to about 285,000 employees working at federal offices within the Beltway, but local jurisdictions, schools, universities and private employers often follow the government's status. Federal building managers at sites just beyond the Beltway may alter the work schedule as necessary, depending on local weather conditions, Berry said.
Despite the changes, forecasters do not anticipate snowfall totals similar to those during last winter's two storms, collectively known as "Snowmaggedon."
"It's not to say that we're not going to get our snow or our cold blasts, but I think once we average the whole winter in hindsight, I think we'll have a much less snowier winter," said Christopher Strong, chief regional meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
La Nina weather patterns should bring cooler than normal waters to the Pacific Ocean, putting less heat in the atmosphere over the continental United States, he said. The change means the Washington area will have more days with temperatures in the 40s and 50s, less snow, and likely more ice. The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang anticipates much the same.
On days with inclement weather, Berry makes his decision after a conference call with more than 100 local, state and federal officials. If the weather outside is frightful this year, he now has five options to consider:
1.) The federal government is open.
2.) The federal government is open with the option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework.
3.) The federal government is open with a delayed arrival, with option for unscheduled leave or unscheduled telework.
4.) The federal government will open with an early departure.
5.) Federal offices are closed to the public.
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| December 15, 2010; 10:27 AM ET
Categories: Workplace Issues
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