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Posted at 7:00 PM ET, 02/ 5/2010

To cancel or not. Feds debate.

By Washington Post editors

John Berry, director of Office Personnel Management for the federal government received a very tersely worded email on Friday.

I seriously cannot believe you made Federal employees come in to work in the DC area today........you're so chintzy as to make us come in to work.

It seems the writer thought that the government should have been shut down because few people would be productive -- apparently tracking the snow online -- and that lives were being put at risk by having people on the road.

Berry began his response this way:

We will see who is right.

He went on to say that "at a time when many of our fellow citizens are out of work, it does not send a good signal to frivolously close the government" when not a flake has fallen.

By Washington Post editors  | February 5, 2010; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Weather  
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Comments

Many Federal workers live well outside the city (my coworkers drive more than an hour each way, they can't afford to live close in) and have children in outlying school systems. When schools close, then parents have to scramble to find alternative child care arrangements. Other situations can be just as perilous, such as caring for disabled adult relatives when regular daily care arrangements that depend on caregivers who come long distances or on facilities are not available. Trying to make yourself look good in the face of a dangerous blizzard, while putting at risk the lives of workers, safety crews, families, and children, shows a lack of foresight and poor leadership. I had hoped that the last election would have changed that attitude but it appears we have a long way to go. In the future, I hope we can make a practical determination based on safety and consideration for others, rather than on scoring political points. As it is, I'm being charged a vacation day that I can ill afford. My disabled adult child's caregiver is not available today because of the weather. Is my situation frivolous?

Posted by: jody43jody | February 5, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

I was able to work from home this morning, but a lot of my co-workers were really, really upset that they had to commute to work only to turn around and go right back, especially those who take MARC and VRE. Some of them were going to spend more time commuting than working, especially when they had to pick up their kids. Berry should be less concerned about what the outside world thinks and more concerned about federal employees.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | February 5, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

It's ridiculous that the government even closed four hours early today. That decision was made before even a single snowflake fell. Conditions were quite passable by 6:00pm. We could have put in an entire work day. People need to stop whining and get to work.

Posted by: wharfy | February 5, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree 100% with Jody; that is an ill chosen reason to use for keeping open, and it sends the wrong message to bot those who have a job and those who don't.

Thankfully, although my employer follows opm.gov for closures, they wizened up after all the complaints from our staff yesterday and decided to close today. Who cares that the snow didn't get bad early on, why wait until it's a blizzard, before deciding it's time to go? Let people get their supplies, and get safe.

Posted by: Rizay | February 5, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Berry was sort of right, but we should have worked all day today, or authorized shut-down at 4 PM. What does it mean to be an American? Hard work, and lots of it!

Posted by: GovFlack | February 5, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Well, lets look at it this way. How about the Feds close whenever there is a snowstorm, but either you have to take a day of leave or make the day up on another Fed holiday or a Saturday. I mean, I understand people can't get in to work (which is why they had liberal leave in effect) for whatever reason. But why should the taxpayers have to pay for a day's work that was not completed? In the private sector, aka, real world, we have to come to work, take a vacation day, or make the time up within the same 2 week pay period. Only time the office would ever close is if no one can work (power outage and network down for example). Besides, its unfair to penalize those who are able to make arrangements for care, and/or able to find a way to get to work. As it is, they got 4 free hours, courtesy of American taxpayers.

Posted by: thetan | February 5, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

The issue was not safety. OPM was trying to say it was "frivolous" not to come in...how many Federal employees risked their lives going home tonight....

Yes, I like my taxes to mean something but not if the guy at EPA or IRS or whatever risks a traffic accident....

And no I am not in Federal Service. OPM shouldn't be concerned on "how it looked" but on "whether it was safe"...many local govts thought differently from OPM and that risks other lives as well (children home from school, etc)...

This is supposedly the snow of a century; I think "history" would forgive OPM for being cautious.

Posted by: mil1 | February 5, 2010 10:32 PM | Report abuse

Do you realize how many people are out of work? Why would anyone cancel anything before a flake has fallen? The afternoon conditions were routine for other parts of the country and people were being babies.

It is not the government's fault if you are taking care of brats, live 2 hours away because you want a house in the country, or have an aging relative. You have a job so put in your 8 hours and stop crying. You want to put in less time commuting then leave early or move closer.

I saw a guy begging for money at Rosslyn and a homeless person on the bench and you punks are crying because you have a traffic jam possible when you drive home.

I am sure you were able to brave the traffic to go to Blockbusters or go to the grocery.

Anyone that complained represents a bunch of losers who don't deserve their jobs. Obese, incompetent government workers who are always trying to get over. The first thing on their schedule when they get in is to get their bag of fast food and hunker down. It takes them 1.5 hours to send one email and then it is time for them to talk Super Bowl.

Sickening.

Posted by: jackson641 | February 5, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

I don't see what the complaint is here. Unless you are an "essential" employee, you did not have to come in (and if you are essential, you would have had to come in even if the government was closed). That's what liberal leave is. If you have a caregiver situation, you've got family friendly or annual leave available for that situation. Personally, I think with the advent of liberal leave and telework, there's no reason for the feds to ever completely close due to weather anymore. And, I am a federal employee.

Posted by: maymay1 | February 5, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

I agree with wharfy and thetan. The roads got wet in the afternoon but were not treacherous. The fed gov't originally gave employees liberal leave; so, it's not as if you had to go to work unless you'd exhausted your leave. My employer gave off the entire day--ridiculous. I caught up on sleep and personal paperwork. The weather folks warned us of this storm a few days ago giving us time to stock up on provisions. I think our great-grandparents are chuckling at our coddled lifestyles.

Posted by: 1950snoopy | February 5, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

I've worked for the federal government for 8 years and I've never seen a bigger bunch of whiners as federal employees. Many of them want just want a free day off. Most of the people in my office who came in today left around noon - when the roads were just wet and snowflakes were just beginning to fall. It was not very treacherous at all to get home at that time. I thought OPM made the right call to close early to get people home and off the roads so that the snow plows could do their job.

Posted by: misterbeauregard | February 6, 2010 2:02 AM | Report abuse

I'm also a Federal employee, and I've long observed that civvies fall into two distinct categories: those who expect the government to give them unearned benefits at every opportunity (automatic pay raises, extra days off work, etc), and those that either come from an earlier time/work ethic, or who come from the private sector. We were given to opportunity to take liberal leave, and got 4 HOURS OFF, and people are complaining because they don't want to dip into their Ocean City vacation time? Lame. There is no better employer, so those of you who chose families and big homes and long commutes, please shut your mouths and start shoveling.

Posted by: hoya_alumna | February 6, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Why would Berry respond at all? He cannot make everyone happy; no one can. Just let it go.

Good luck to everyone in this storm. Stay warm and safe.

Posted by: --sg | February 6, 2010 9:24 AM | Report abuse

The comment posted by a Fed. emp. only proves to all why the Fed. Gov. has become a waste. The Fed. employs people that wouldn't be able to find employment else ware. Half the people are on the Gov. job WELFARE program.

Posted by: askgees | February 6, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

As of 9:30 today the opm.gov site says that the Federal Government status in the DC area is OPEN. I am guessing that no one could get in to the office to update the status. lol

Check it out: http://www.opm.gov/status/

Posted by: confident_dem | February 6, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The system in DC isn't able to handle these kind of snows. Nobody should have to risk their lives to get to a JOB, for gosh sakes. I live in the Rockies, near Canada and the snow storm you are getting is just normal everyday stuff for us in winter. The difference is that our state and communities are prepared to handle snow in huge volumes. So, I sympathize with those with long commutes in near blizzard conditions. We shut down our highways when it gets too bad and don't allow traffic. Warning are given a day in advance not to travel. You need to have a permanent plan in place for when this happens. Weather patterns continue to change worldwide. We have no snow at all this year out west. Grass is starting to grow in my yard. I wish we had your snow, I miss it.

Posted by: clairevb | February 6, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Amen to the previous posters who called out the whiners. Federal employees had the choice of working half a day or taking an unscheduled day off. What's the problem? Be glad you could make the decision based on your situation. Jeez!

Posted by: wildpotato | February 6, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

I can't believe how much you are complaining about having to go to work. My fiance, who is unemployed, would gladly take your place - snow, rain, etc. I was grateful to go to work yesterday. I am not a federal employee and don't expect my employer to pay me for work I'm not doing. Try changing your perspective - how would you care for those children, drive that car, and live in that house if you didn't have a job?

Posted by: eguertin | February 6, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Be glad you have a job. Stop whining or go back to where you come from, find a job there where you dont have to commute. Oh thats right, hicktown does not have any jobs, thats why you moved to the DC area.

Posted by: ged0386 | February 6, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

jody43jody

You should have moved someplace else when you finished college and got a job there, where you could afford housing, childcare, etc. But you chose to live in the DC area because thats the career path you chose. Deal with it.

Posted by: ged0386 | February 6, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Some people just love to whine and complain about something. Its snow people, not the first one not the last. Go back to the political section and trash Obama. Thats what most of you do best.

Posted by: ged0386 | February 6, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

I agree with the posters saying "quit whining". Only the enterprizes that aren't in the business of making money close. McDonalds isn't closed. 7-11 Eleven isn't closed. Northrop Grumman isn't closed. If you don't want to go to work, then don't, and don't expect to get paid.

Posted by: JoeMck | February 6, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

I really can't believe we are supposed to feel sorry for people who can't make it to work because they have kids or live to far away.

Posted by: boise91801 | February 6, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

If you don't appreciate the sweet deal you have being a federal employee, then quit and get out of the way, you parasite.

Posted by: GeneWells | February 6, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

Federal whiners: Just take one of your fake sick days to make up for being forced to work like the rest of us stiffs.

Posted by: GeneWells | February 6, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

If you are so dissatisfied with your welfare....er...employer why don't you quit and get a real job. My employer had a staff meeting scheduled at 8am and said we could leave at 4pm. No liberal leave or paid time off for us, I'm expected to be to work on Monday or take a leave day or day without pay, move over whiny dude - I'll take your job and you can have mine. Use some of your thousands of hours of accumulated leave - I get 2 weeks a year, period....use or lose....so SHUT UP ALREADY!!!!!!

Posted by: doubled641 | February 6, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I would have begun my response this way:

"Thank you for your comments. I will be in my office tomorrow at 7 am. You will, as well, so we can discuss your comments. The good news is, you can plan on leaving work early tomorrow."

Posted by: Route1 | February 6, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I would like to comment that I work for OPM-FISD and even though the Govt may close, for some ill-thought reason we are still required to work. We conduct the security clearance investigations and must drive around all day long to meet with others. Our local management finds it prudent to still require us to work, despite the rest of the Govt being closed, and despite the extremely dangerous road conditions, while our other Govt cohorts are off. Double standard? Someone want to give me a good reason for this?

Posted by: joliedaisy24 | February 6, 2010 11:16 PM | Report abuse

Ahh, life in WashDC during the winter.

I worked for the State Department for almost 30 years although most of it was spent overseas in the Middle East where snow is rare. Nevertheless, I spent a few winters in DC and survived.

I was always able to get into work because I grew up in Montana, had a reliable SUV with studded snow tires and lived in north Arlington just across Memorial Bridge from the department.

I remember being the sole duty officer in the State Department Operations center's Iran Working Group during Christmas Eve and Christmas day 1979. I already had a full time job on the Egyptian desk in State, but I volunteered for the Christmas night watch because I was single. Frankly, I thought it would be a slow night. Turned out I was wrong.

I had a couple of secretaries, also volunteers, working with me that night, but around 10PM I told them they could both go home because it was Christmas eve. They appreciated that and went home to their families.

About an hour later the numerous phones began to ring. Because of the Iran hostage crisis, the public numbers of State's Iran Working Group had been publicized by the media nationwide.

Starting around 11 PM, EST, people began calling in from all across the country asking if there was any news about the hostages and asking us to pass on Christmas greetings to them and their families if we could. I noted as many as I could and thanked every one of several hundred callers for their call.

What's the point of all this? Well, it's just a memory, but it's a memory that even when times are difficult there are folks out there who are looking out for you and yours. You'll never know their names, you may experience what they did for you or you may not. Nevertheless, they are there and you should be grateful.

Now I'm happily retired and living out way here in northwest Montana. We're having an El Nino winter here which means very little snow and increased forest fire danger next summer. We'd love to have some of that snow that you folks are getting this year. We're well accustomed to dealing with it.

Thirty plus years later I am still glad to have had the privilege of living, working and trying to be helpful in WashDC, just like the folks who are helping you now.

Be grateful for what you have and what you share. Help your neighbors.

Posted by: dsrobins | February 10, 2010 2:03 AM | Report abuse

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