New-to-Washington political appointees, hoping to dilute or eliminate teleworking in their agencies, maybe got a dose of reality this week, courtesy of our first snowfall that dumped — are you ready — anywhere from 0.4 to 5.1 inches of snow over the metro area.
That’s not much snow by Chicago, Boston or North Dakota standards. But in this hilly river city, chock full of tourists and once-bold but now aging transplants still learning to navigate around traffic circles, all in a huge (Did I mention hillly?) geographic area stretching from West Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay, it’s enough — more than enough, actually.
Once they’ve spent some time in the Washington, D.C., metro area, including portions of Maryland and Virginia, hearty Minnesotans and even heartier Vermonters who routinely walked to school in near blizzard conditions, some barefooted and carrying heavy loads or younger siblings, seem to lose it. After a couple of D.C. winters they too pray for the announcements that federal agencies and schools will have a two-hour delay or, better yet, be closed for the day.
Both happened this week. The government issued a general 2-hour early dismissal order. Some agencies acting on their own let people go sooner, or delay coming to work. They also dusted off the teleworking policy, which is designed to let the government carry on, from the comfort and safety of individual employees’ homes and apartments, regardless of outside gridlock and dangerous driving conditions.
What’s different with the first snow delay of the year is that many feds in several agencies, including the Social Security Administration, Interior and Agriculture departments, are no longer teleworking, by order of the government!
Motives behind the teleworking crackdown probably vary widely. Some officials may genuinely believe they have too many people working from home who would better serve the public at face-to-face meetings in Social Security or IRS offices. Some may genuinely believe teleworking is too tempting a distraction, that employees may be spending time watching their children or daytime TV — or porn. Others see it as a way to crackdown on federal unions, who consistently endorse and work for Democratic candidates or who, in their view, use taxpayer-paid space to conduct union business that goes beyond workplace problems. Or it’s an effective way to whack a bureaucrat. Whatever!
So how did the first blast of winter do in the D.C. area?
Although most of us at Federal News Network stayed at our posts, some even later than usual, I decided to show solidarity with the federal family. I cut out as soon as I heard feds were going to be dismissed later. It was the ultimate sacrifice.
I decided to chronicle their pain and suffering from a few blocks of my house. I mean you gotta survive to report, right? Anyhow, my office-to-home escape route takes me past a number of Defense operations, dozen of foreign embassies — a story for another time — a university, dozens of schools and some highly classified buried underground facilities, and a lot of traffic. In the metro area all roads lead to our (in)famous Beltway, which circles — some say strangles— all of D.C. and parts of Maryland and Virginia. It has gone from being one of the wonders of the world to, at times, a 64-mile-long noose.
Franz Liszt, the 19th-century Hungarian classical composer, was such a celebrity and inspired such a rabid, rockstar-level following, that one fan was recorded taking his used cigar from the street and making it into a locket.