To err is human, to forgive, divine!


That's okay as a lesson for your kids. But for Washington in winter, its snow job talk.

Based on what happened yesterday--The government's open! Yada, yada, yada. The government's closed!--some federal workers want some heads to roll. They want the chopping block set up at the Office of Personnel Mangement. OPM makes the government open/government closed calls.

Being director of OPM is usually a great job. Good pay, no heavy lifting. But in wintertime, it's like being entertainment director on the Titanic.

Many private-sector types who have to go to work regardless, see red when our area turns white and nonessential federal workers get the day off.

Washington Post employees showed up yesterday looking like extras hired for another remake of the movie "The Call of the Wild." Normally nattily attired reporters, researchers and editors looked like they had been given four minutes to shop at an Eddie Bauer seconds outlet. The people who run and deliver the paper also showed up, as per usual.

I got only three business telephone calls. And a half-dozen e-mails. All on the same--guess what?-subject:

Why did OPM wait until after 7 a.m. to announce a shutdown? That's when the news was posted on OPM's Web site and the come-to-work message on OPM's telephone hot line (202-606-1900) was scrapped in favor of the stay-home! message.

When the shutdown was announced, thousands of federal workers were either at work, in their cars or packed on buses and Metro trains heading to the office.

Jim Rogers wanted to know: "Why did OPM wait so long to announce the [government] was closed? When I heard that liberal leave was in effect, I left my house at 6:45 a.m. to get a head start on a very dangerous Beltway. At 7:30 a.m. I made it to the office only to hear WTOP announce that OPM had just closed the [government]. You would think OPM would try to announce these things by 6 a.m."

In fact, OPM usually makes any shutdown call much earlier. Because of the freak nature of the storm, meteorologists were updating reports all evening--first from one to three inches, then two to four, then three to six inches, and on up. Early yesterday morning--when OPM made its call--the prediction had risen to six to 12 inches of snow.

Surprised Volunteer had this to say: "I live in Silver Spring and work near Union Station. At 5:15 a.m., I dug out my car and drove to the Metro station. I arrived at work at 6:20 a.m., well before Tuesday's closing was announced.

"Since the government was closed and I am 'nonessential,' I am considered to be here voluntarily. I can't get comp time off. Given the state of the roadways, it made sense for me to stay here most of the day. . . . I must admit that I am accomplishing more than usual in this quiet work environment. . . .

"Rather than staying home with my cat and keeping my walk and driveway shoveled, I worked for free . . . knowing it would take hours to get home because of the infrequent bus service from Metro to my house. . . . I realize a few hours comp time is a small matter, especially since I really don't need it and do need to get out the work. But this does seem unfair. Any thoughts?"

And Jeanne Madigan said: "OPM's decision-making staff needs to get their act together! I wasted my time and money getting to work Tuesday morning only to find out the federal government had closed. This decision should have been made by 5 a.m. at the latest."

OPM has taken its lumps before--and will again. The weather can be hard to figure in the Washington area--on the border between North and South, with mountains on one side and a large bay on the other. In the past, when OPM has shut down the government or sent workers home early, it has been ridiculed because an anticipated blizzard turned out to be nothing. It also has been criticized for playing hardball and keeping agencies open when the going actually got tough.

In fact, OPM's Web site weather page ( /index.htm) has taken steps to cover its, uh, tracks. In addition to up-to-date weather news and the work status of agencies, it provides a history of other weather- or security-related events back through 1998.

What with the phones being so quiet and my duty done, the next move was to find an unguarded side door and beat a hasty (earlier-than-usual) retreat. But I'm bailing out early out of consideration for my colleagues. My early departure should make their commute--when they leave hours later, after putting out the paper--that much easier.

The trick, of course, was to make sure editors-who-count realized that I made it into work--and dressed as badly as they did. Mission accomplished!

Mike Causey's e-mail address is