Blizzard 2016: Different strokes for different cities

Despite what some people think, the STOP/GO  button that can shut down, then reopen the federal government doesn’t exist.

It’s a big country and a big government. Parts of the federal machine cannot shut down, no matter what. Others can take a break to let roads and repairs crews do their thing during a major weather event. And some parts of the country don’t do blizzards.

Uncle Sam did have a major — in some cases record-breaking — event over the weekend. It closed many operations in many places. Others carried on. All kept vital functions going, no matter what.

The Washington metro area is a special case for lots of reasons. Fourteen of every 100 federal workers worldwide lives, commutes and works in suburban Maryland, two counties of West Virginia, Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia. Here,  the Office of Personnel Management, in consultation with dozens of jurisdictions, Metro (bus and subway), the White House, Pentagon and other groups, has control.

OPM wisely closed nonemergency functions Monday and Tuesday. That decision also affects hundreds of thousands of non-feds here, from contractors to school children and those of us who — come what may — have to work.

Locally, OPM is getting lots of praise from feds. As it should.  Feds are using social media to thank the agency for having the guts to take pressure off the roads and emergency highway and power companies who, by and large, did and continue to do a bang-up job.

I lost power at 9:01 a.m. on Monday. That is usually the start of an extended mini Dark Age in this city of above-ground power lines and more trees than the Amazon rainforest.  At 10 a.m. I heard the crew outside and 21 minutes later the “let-there-be-light” crew, having done its job, was off on another mission of mercy.  Go PEPCO!!

Not suprisingly, government semi-shutdowns are different in different cities. Away from Washington, city Federal Executive Boards coordinate and gather information. But they do not order shutdowns. They advise local agencies of weather conditions but generally leave it up to individual agencies to make the stay home or go to work call. That seems to make sense since none of them have as many feds as the D.C. area.  And the way they word their decisions is interesting, too.

On Monday for example:

DC and Baltimore, joined at the hip by geography and common locality pay area, didn’t mess around.  They put up the “closed” sign. That means emergency workers report for work, and those with telework agreements keep working from home.

Philadelphia and Newark — hard hit by the extended blizzard — had delayed openings.

Boston, ever formal, issued an “emergency decision and notification protocol — extreme weather” alert. It pointed out that the FEB doesn’t close government operations, because individual agencies “are always responsible for making the final determination on the status of their operations.”

New York City’s  FEB was my favorite. On Monday, its website didn’t mess around. It went straight to the point, sort of. It said “the New York City Federal Executive Board is on hiatus.”

Whatever your status, make sure your hiatus stays warm.

Retirement Planning Checklist:  Whether you are months or years away from retirement you need a plan. And there are certain things you should do at certain stages of your career. Today at 10 a.m. on our Your Turn show, Retirement Planner John Grobe will talk about some “must” items on your checklist. That’s 10a.m (EST) here at www.federalnewsradio.dotcom or in the D.C. area on 1500 a.m.


Nearly Useless Factoid

By Meredith Somers

The word “blizzard” comes from the German word blitzartig, meaning “lightning-like.” According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, European settlers in Iowa were stunned at the severity of American winters.

Source: NSIDC

More from Federal News Radio