The Washington Post

About one-third of feds in D.C. are telework during storms


Sandy is sitting on the federal government like a huge wet and windy blanket, a killjoy if there ever was one.

Yet, despite the storm that has closed government offices along the East Coast, stopped transit systems and forced residents to remain hunkered down in their homes, some work of the government continues to get done. A good chunk of employees are working while their colleagues have the day off.

Emergency personnel, of course, work no matter what. Increasingly, others, who are not considered emergency personnel, are in a position to work from home.

“We estimate that approximately one-third of the nearly 300,000 Federal employees in the D.C. area telework on days when the government buildings close due to weather,” said Thomas Richards, a spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).

But according to OPM’s latest annual “Status of Telework in the Federal Government” report to Congress, issued in June, less than 8 percent of federal employees telework regularly.

If so many employees can telework when storms close offices in D.C., why don’t more telework on a regular basis?

OPM’s report cites “management resistance” as the primary barrier to teleworking, closely followed by technology. But if technology is such an important barrier, how can such a significant percentage of federal workers in the D.C. area telework during storms?

Teleworking was a central component of OPM Director John Berry’s decision to close offices in the metropolitan D.C. area because of Hurricane Sandy. The notice issued by the agency at 5:35 p.m. Sunday said the excused absence allowed Monday for non-emergency employees did not apply to those “required to telework.”

Teleworkers don’t get administrative leave on a bad weather day. If they don’t want to work, they have to take a vacation day.

“Telework-Ready Employees who are scheduled to perform telework on the day of the announcement or who are required to perform unscheduled telework on a day when Federal offices are closed to the public must telework the entire workday or request leave, or a combination of both,” according to the OPM announcement.

Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP

Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at

Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary, a column about federal government and workplace issues that celebrated its 80th birthday in November 2012. Davidson previously was an assistant city editor at The Washington Post and a Washington and foreign correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, where he covered federal agencies and political campaigns.

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