Trick Question: (If you are not a native Washingtonian, career military or long-time civil servant do not attempt to answer. The question:
What could be worse than working in an office where the temperature is a sweltering 95 degrees?
The answer: working in an office where the temperature is "only" 94 degrees.
In our by-the-numbers, what-a difference-a-degree makes government, where regulations supersede horse sense, 95 degrees is a lot better than 94 degrees. Why? Because if it is 95 you may be able to go home early. If it is only 94 you must sit and drip into your out-box all day. It is really quite logical, if you live here and understand the government. Otherwise forget it.
The problem is that Washington is a hot, sticky town. And a government town. It is so hot here that the civilized British once gave their embassy staffers and young griffins a tropical bonus for surviving here from June through September. Gone are those days, thanks to air-conditioning.
The continuing problem for our town's 400,000 U.S. and military personnel is that many work in buildings that are not air-conditioned. More work in buildings where the air-conditioning works fine, except in June, July and August when it breaks. Many more work in concrete boxes where the windows, if indeed there are windows, cannot be opened without the aide of an antitank gun or a well-trained gorilla.
Coupled with President Carter's edict to keep the heat up to conserve energy edict, many civil servants confined to the sunny side of their buildings say the summer time is like taking a sauna with your clothes on.
To insure that the minimum number of U.S. employes drop dead from the heat -- at the office -- the government has an official heat release program. As the name implies it means employes can be sent home early (where President Carter's temperature guidelines are harder to enforce) if it reaches prescribed levels of intolerance.
Under the federal heat-humidity guidelines, bosses may allow employes to go home early if the temperature and humidity readings in your office reach certain levels. The boss doesn't have to let you go, but he or she can if, and only if, the temperature-humidity discomfort index hits the following levels. You might want to clip and save this. It can be a life-saver in the hot months ahead. Here goes:
Official U.S. Government Indoor Discomfort Index: Temperature: 95 Humidity: 55 Temperature: 96 Humidity: 52 Temperature: 97 Humidity: 49 Temperature: 98 Humidity: 45 Temperature: 99 Humidity: 42 Temperature: 100 Humidity: 38
Many nonfederal offices here, unions and headquarters of national organizations follow the federal leave pattern. When Uncle Sam sends people home early for snow, heat, pollution or whatever, many private firms here do the same for their people.
Some people have called and asked if the heat-humidity guidelines are rigid. That is, can people be sent home early if, say the temperature hits 94 and the humidity is 55, or 60, or 100? No. The government has its rigid guidelines and will not change them.
The rules are there. Continue to hope for cool, dry working conditions. But if it does get bad, pray for the worst.Remember, a miserable 95 is much better than a tolerable 80 indoors.
This heat-and-humidity column won't make much sense in Topeka, or Detroit or even Los Angeles, but here along the banks of the Potomac it makes perfect sense, perfect sense, perfect, sense, perfect sense . . .