In a bid to accommodate families that switched health insurance plans to keep their coverage at Children's Hospital, the Office of Personnel Management announced yesterday that it would allow federal employees -- under certain conditions -- to revert to their original plan.

In a letter to agencies, OPM Director Kay Coles James said, "We are instructing you to allow the employees who switched from either CareFirst Blue Choice or the [Blue Cross and Blue Shield] Service Benefit Plan and have not filed claims under their new plans the opportunity to make a belated open season change to switch back to their original plan."

The opportunity to switch back to the Blue Cross plans "will begin immediately and continue through March 3," James said.

Federal employees faced a Dec. 9 deadline -- in the middle of the dispute between CareFirst and Children's -- to select or switch health care plans. The lengthy dispute, settled this week, left many employees feeling they had been sandbagged.

On Tuesday, responding to constituents, Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) sent James a joint letter urging OPM to reopen the federal health insurance program. The lawmakers said many federal workers "were adversely affected by the impasse" between the insurance company and the hospital.

James said regulations permit agencies to make "belated open season enrollment change requests" on a case-by-case basis. That allows the government to respond "without incurring the costs of an additional open season," she said.

Davis and Moran said they were pleased with the promptness of OPM's reply, their spokesman said. "This is the best offer we could have gotten considering the economic and contractual constraints placed upon OPM," said Daniel F. Drummond, Moran's spokesman.

Telecommuting Deal for Patent Office Telecommuters at the patent office got the green light yesterday.

The Patent and Trademark Office and one of its unions, the Patent Office Professional Association, reached agreement on a telework program that will cover about 700 senior patent examiners, the agency said.

Under the program, the examiners can work at home one day a week. As a general rule, most of the work-at-home examiners will spend their time reading patent cases and writing reports and findings.

"I am certainly delighted by this development," said James E. Rogan, director of the Patent and Trademark Office. About 110 trademark attorneys already participate in a work-at-home program, and Rogan said he was confident the patent program "will be equally successful and enhance our well-deserved reputation for leadership in this area."

Ronald Stern, the union president, said: "Employees will be delighted that the program will be starting soon. Everyone will welcome the return of this program, and better to have something than nothing."

The agency and union clashed over the patent telecommuting program last summer, bringing a pilot project to a halt. At the time, the agency thought about 350 examiners should be allowed to work at home, and the union contended that all examiners, except new hires on probation, should be given the option.

But Stern said an impasses panel, which rules on labor-management disputes, had signaled it would side with the patent office's position. "With that persuasion, we saw the light," he said.

The 700 employees eligible to telecommute represent about 60 percent of patent examiners in General Schedule 14 and higher grades and about 20 percent of all examiners, said agency spokeswoman Brigid Quinn.

Talk Shows Tim Dirks, a federal personnel expert, and David Orr, associate director of human resources at the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency for the District of Columbia, will discuss "Performance Management From a Manager's Perspective" on "FEDtalk" at 11 a.m. today on

Angela Antonelli, chief financial officer at the Housing and Urban Development Department, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 8 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Senority vs. Performance" will be the topic for discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is