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Federal Eye
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 10/29/2012

For OPM chief, decision to close federal offices during Hurricane Sandy was an easy one

After a telephone call at 5 p.m. on Sunday, John Berry knew what he had to do: close federal offices in the Washington area on Monday.

The call was with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The subject: Hurricane Sandy.

Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, and his staff had been in close touch with the National Weather Service and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Eye Opener

During the call, Berry learned of “a risk of wind and wind gust for the region that was even more serious than had been projected before this 5 p.m. call.”

Considering the threat to public safety, “it was a pretty easy call at that point,” he said. “We could have record gusts in this region.”

But keeping the government running is a major consideration. “We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to keep the government open as much as we possibly can,” Berry said.

So although federal offices will be closed, that doesn’t mean all federal work will stop.

The OPM announcement, issued at 5:35 p.m. Sunday, says:

“Telework-Ready Employees who are scheduled to perform telework on the day of the announcement or who are required to perform unscheduled telework on a day when Federal offices are closed to the public must telework the entire workday or request leave, or a combination of both.”

Hurricane or not, “Emergency Employees are expected to report to their worksites unless otherwise directed by their agencies,” according to OPM.

The announcement said non-emergency workers will be granted an excused absence, except those who are required to telework, are on official travel outside the area, are on leave without pay, or are on an alternative work schedule day off.

If federal offices were open on Monday, many federal employees would have had a hard time getting to work because Metro suspended all bus and rail service.

Although continuity of government operations is an important factor in determining whether to keep government offices open, Berry said, “The first and most important issue is making sure we can protect the safety of our employees.”

federaldiary@washpost.com

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 10/29/2012

 
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