The Washington Post

OPM hit snags with new inclement-weather alert Monday

(Scott Sharpe/AP)

The Office of Personnel Management updated its inclement-weather procedures in November with an option to allow federal employees to start work later than usual when morning road conditions are dangerous.

OPM first used its “delayed arrival” announcement for the D.C. area on Sunday night, when forecasters predicted icy roads for the next morning,

But the christening came with a few snags for the agency, which ended up sending mixed messages with its online status alerts.

OPM first posted an alert late Sunday evening, saying federal employees should stay off the roads until 10 a.m. and that government offices would open at noon — meaning they would start work at that time. So far, so good.

By 6 a.m., OPM had changed the online status to say federal employees should stay off the roads until 10 a.m. and that government offices would open at the same hour. It also bucked protocol by saying the offices would open for the public at noon.

The new status seemed to tell federal workers they were supposed to hit the roads at 10 a.m. and be at work at the same time. As for “open to the public,” OPM nixed that language in November because the line caused confusion in the past.

The agency reverted to its original Sunday night message online after a “brief period” Monday morning, according to spokesman Thomas Richards, who said e-mail, social media and phone alerts were correct and stayed the same throughout the day.

Federal News Radio reported that OPM fixed the times but had failed to take down the “open to the public” language by noon on Monday.

Richards said the agency recognized its errors and doesn’t expect to make them again. “For future announcements, we expect to have clear, consistent information that doesn’t change.”

OPM changed its closure and dismissal procedures in November because of confusion about status alerts following Hurricane Sandy in October. The main problem that time around seemed to be the use of the phrase “open to the public,” which the agency decided to eliminate.

Federal workers also received a variety of evacuation orders after a 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit the D.C. region in August 2011. OPM didn’t issue recommendations until two hours after the event, leaving some agencies to make their own calls as to what they should do.

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Josh Hicks covers Maryland politics and government. He previously anchored the Post’s Federal Eye blog, focusing on federal accountability and workforce issues.

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