Uncle Sam is trying, as gracefully as possible, to crawl out from beneath the public relations rubble created by last Friday's snowstorm.
Yesterday, in an attempt to recognize the difficulties most people had getting to work that day, the government strongly urged agencies to be lenient with no-shows and charge them only half a day's annual leave for Friday.
Although the great blizzard has turned to puddles, a lot of folks here think the decision to call federal workers in, then send them home, ranks among the dumbest since the owners of the Titanic figured they could skimp on the number of life-boats without anybody noticing.
You may recall (who could forget) that this time last week Washington was up to its knees in snow. Odds are you were either at home, mushing through the mess, or at the office wondering if you would ever see your loved ones in Olney or Annandale again.
Despite the snow, thousands of this town's 342,000 feds trekked into the office after hearing on radio or television that the government show would go on. Uncle Sam had declared a policy of "late arrival/liberal annual leave." That meant people who came in late would not be docked for it, and those who wanted to stay home could take annual leave (vacation) without prior approval.
As the snowstorm grew worse, the Office of Personnel Management decided to begin releasing workers on an agency-by-agency basis beginning at 11 a.m. and running through 1:30 p.m.
Nearly everybody has a nightmare story about how long it took to get home -- for those lucky enough to get home.
Judging from calls to Capitol Hill, the White House, the OPM and this office, federal workers were furious because the government didn't shut down Friday.
The presidents of federal employe unions denounced the Friday fiasco in the most passionate terms.
One union leader even suggested it was part of a Reagan administration plot to wipe out the federal work force.
Sen. Paul Trible (R-Va.) said it should never happen again. He suggested that people who didn't make it to work be paid for the day anyhow, while those who did report for duty get some kind of bonus.
What irked many feds was the news that their nearly 60,000 U.S. counterparts in Baltimore got the day off with pay.
On Monday a number of agencies announced that employes who didn't report for work Friday would be charged eight hours of annual leave.
OPM then sent out a "policy guidance" to agencies, advising them to grant no-shows four hours of paid administrative leave, and to charge them only four hours of leave for the eight-hour nonworkday. Some agencies went along. Others took a harder line. They said anybody who failed to report would be charged eight hours annual leave.
Yesterday, the OPM sent a stronger advisory to hard-line agencies.
It says President Reagan thinks it would be a good idea for supervisors to be as lenient as possible with no-shows, and to charge them only four hours of annual leave for Friday. The remaining four hours can be charged, at the discretion of the employe, to his or her annual leave account, to sick leave or to leave without pay.
OPM associate director Patrick Korten said the latest advisory has the "concurrence of the White House." What that means, Korten said, is that agencies are not required to give employes four hours of paid leave. But those who do not may have to explain their decision to the White House.
Employes who did make it in, only to be told to go home, will be paid for the whole day with no charge to leave, Korten said.
Biggest losers in all of this are the thousands of "essential" employes who must report, snow or not. Those who could not make it in will apparently be charged eight hours annual leave for the day -- unless they can convince a supervisor they made superhuman efforts to report for duty.