OPM updates bad-weather policy for federal workforce

November 26, 2012

The Office of Personnel Management on Tuesday outlined new changes to its protocol for closings and early dismissals, building on an overhaul of those policies that came after the 2010 “Snowmageddon” traffic jams that clogged roads for hours.

This year’s changes include new “delayed arrival” announcements that will either tell federal employees to remain off the roads until a designated time or instruct them to postpone their usual start times by a certain number of hours. Those guidelines would apply when weather and road conditions are expected to improve enough throughout the day to open government offices, OPM said.

OPM said it will also urge government agencies to increase the number of employees that can telework when offices are closed.

OPM’s goal is to alert workers to severe-weather closings by at least 4 a.m. Agency director John Berry makes the final decision, based on a conference call with local, state and federal officials who report on conditions and explain how well their agencies can function.

“Anyone who has a transportation or emergency management function is on that call,” said OPM spokesman Thomas Richards during a media briefing Tuesday.

National Weather Service meteorologist Christ Strong, also at Tuesday’s briefing, said the Washington region is likely to experience “a winter close to normal,” adding that residents should always prepare for the unexpected.

In 2010, “Snowmageddon” trapped thousands of drivers in traffic for as long as 12 hours as blizzards blanketed roads starting around rush hour. That event prompted OPM to overhaul its bad-weather policies, mainly by setting a deadline for early dismissals and asking workers to “shelter in place” if they could not leave by the designated time.

The federal government’s bad-weather policies have led to confusion in past years, and OPM officials acknowledged Tuesday that its previous “federal offices are closed” alert left many federal employees wondering whether they had to report for work or if the notice was only for the general public.

A new announcement will read: “Federal offices are closed — emergency and telework-ready employees must follow their agency’s policies.”

OPM officials said the new wording, which the agency adopted unofficially last year, encourages workers to consult their respective agencies about what to do.

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Josh Hicks covers the federal government and anchors the Federal Eye blog. He reported for newspapers in the Detroit and Seattle suburbs before joining the Post as a contributor to Glenn Kessler’s Fact Checker blog in 2011.
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