Spring in Washington means the smell of flowers, the sight of tourists and the mournful cry of civil servants who claim their sunnyside-of-the-building offices become ovens until Uncle Sam gets his air conditioners working properly.
Dozens of government workers--from the Pentagon to the Parklawn Building--called yesterday. They wanted to know if somebody would build a fire under whoever it is that flicks the cool-air switch.
A number of callers asked us to rerun the government's so-called "misery index." That handy chart once served as the guide to how bad things have to be before people get sent home.
Alas, the old days are gone forever.
The Reagan administration retired the misery index in June 1981. It has substituted a new policy (FPM Letter 610-6) "Hot or Cold Working Conditions" that says how the federal establishment is to deal with hot or cold working conditions.
Under the old misery index, federal agency heads could release employes if the indoor temperature hit 95 and the humidity hit 55; or at 96-52, 97-49, 98-45, 99-42 or 100-38.
The misery index was scrapped, officials say, because most of the old temporary government buildings and quonset huts are gone and air conditioning has come into its own.
One of the big drawbacks to the new buildings, however, is that the only way to open a window is to heave a chair through it. In offices facing the south or west, the sealed windows can produce ovenlike temperatures, even if the rest of the building is pleasantly cool. This drives building engineers crazy too.
The current policy still gives agency heads almost total discretion to release workers, if working conditions are bad, but says those dismissals "should be rare, and emphasis should be placed on the correction of these conditions. Employes are expected to work if conditions at the place of work are reasonably adequate, in the agency's judgment, although these conditions may not be normal and may involve minor discomforts."
The guidelines say that individual employes who cannot function or who are made ill by their office climate may take sick leave or annual leave. But before administrative leave (paid time off not charged to the employe) may be granted "it must be clearly established by reasonable standards of judgment that the conditions are such as to actually prevent working."
In plain language that means you probably won't be excused from work this spring or summer unless you can fry an egg on your desk in the presence of the head of your agency.