Frustrated feds not happy with OPM snow response

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UPDATED: The Office of Personnel Management is closing D.C.-area federal offices on Friday, Jan. 22, at 12 p.m. Read the full story.

Federal employees in the Washington, D.C. area took their commute frustrations out on the Office of Personnel Management Thursday morning, citing the agency’s decision to keep federal agencies open without a two-hour delay or allow unscheduled telework.

These complaints marked an inauspicious start to OPM Director Beth Cobert’s role as the capital region’s leading authority on calling for snow closures or unscheduled telework.

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“In my 31 years of federal service I have never experienced a more blatant disregard for safety on behalf of OPM,” Tony Huff said in a Facebook comment to OPM’s Facebook page. “To not even authorize, at minimum, a 2 hour delay or offer telecommute opportunity is utterly appalling. OPM ‘shot callers’ deserve to stripped of their positions on this one.”

OPM made almost no changes to its Washington-area dismissal and closure procedures for the 2015-16 season, but stressed the agency managers promote telework as a way for employees to ensure continuity of operations during a weather emergency.

“This year OPM is not recommending changes to the procedures or the operating status announcements,” Director Beth Cobert said in a memo to members of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council back in December.

In an email to Federal News Radio, OPM Press Secretary Sam Schumach said the agency was in contact with transportation and emergency management late Wednesday night.

“The consensus was the amount of time between the last snowfall and the morning rush would yield sufficient time for the region’s Departments of Transportation to make significant progress on major arterials and secondary roads, recognizing that there would be some areas with patchy coverage,” Schumach said. “OPM decided with that information that it was in the best interest to keep the operating status of the Federal government as open.”

But the absence of any mention to use unscheduled telework in Thursday morning’s operating status drew some attention on social media.

“This is absolutely ridiculous. Time and effort was spent altering the telework policy to make [it] so that it is easier for more people to telework — including on snow days. It just goes to show how little you care about the safety of government employees to not even consider unscheduled telework,” Marisa Pedro said in a Facebook comment. “This was the reason why the agreement was expanded and revised and you said, ‘Meh, make them work.'”

With an even larger snowstorm projected to hit the region Friday, many found OPM’s response to be too little, too late.

“OPM You failed! Last year, the former Director, Mrs. Archuleta, did a great job calling the 2 hour delays & closures by 5 a.m. It was chaos last night and people were stuck in traffic for hours! What made you think that it was going to be different this morning? You knew that VDOT & Maryland transportation did not treat the roads in time. I hope you get it together by Monday,” Maritza Bethea said on Facebook.

Others commented in defense of former OPM Director Katherine Archuleta’s record for snow closures and delays

“Although she is no longer there, it seems that the process used by Katherine Archuleta worked well for deciding the operating status of the Federal Government,” Laronda Ferguson Brewer said on OPM’s Facebook page.

OPM spokesman Samuel Schumach provided Federal News Radio with a statement Thursday afternoon:

“In light of the reports of traffic issues, late last night, OPM proactively made contact with representatives from the Departments of Transportation, and emergency management offices of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia, as well as the Metropolitan Area Transportation Operations Coordination (MATOC), to discuss road conditions and next steps. The consensus was the amount of time between the last snowfall and the morning rush would yield sufficient time for the region’s Departments of Transportation to make significant progress on major arterials and secondary roads, recognizing that there would be some areas with patchy coverage. OPM decided with that information that it was in the best interest to keep the operating status of the Federal government as open. “

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