OPM to open D.C. area federal offices on Wednesday under 3-hour delay

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The Office of Personnel Management decided to open the federal government in the Washington, D.C. area on Wednesday on a three-hour delay with unscheduled telework and liberal leave.

The decision comes after two phone calls with the Metropolitan Council of Governments  on Tuesday to better understand the status of the roads and with mass transit.

The Baltimore Federal Executive Board recommended federal offices in that region open at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, and offer liberal leave and unscheduled telework.

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OPM decided to close the D.C. area federal government both Monday and Tuesday as the District, Maryland and Virginia metro area dug out of a snowstorm that dumped as much as 30 inches of snow in some parts of the region.

Monday, OPM decided to close the government around 9:45 p.m., and on Sunday, the decision came earlier, just before 6 p.m.

While some federal employees were frustrated that OPM waited until almost 10 p.m. Tuesday, most praised the agency for making the right call and keeping commuters off the roads and mass transit.

County and state transportation crews continue to make progress in plowing the streets and clearing highways.

WTOP, Federal News Radio’s sister station, reported Jennifer McCord, of the Virginia Department of Transportation, said that VDOT’s road crews are focusing on subdivisions, where about 60 percent of the roads have been plowed.

WTOP also reported that while Metrorail service resumed on all but the Silver Line, a new problem arose on Tuesday morning on the Orange Line. Metrorail said there was no service on the Orange Line between the Vienna and Ballston stations in Virginia due to damage to the third rail. Metro told commuters to use the Ballston station. Metro also said on Wednesday the stations will open at 5 a.m., but the Silver and Orange lines remained challenged with snow and mechanical problems.

Metro also said bus service expanded to 79 routes Tuesday: 27 in D.C. and 26 each in Virginia and Maryland. The buses are sticking to main roads and staying off hills. Metro reported that on Wednesday it would move to a moderate weather bus service, meaning adding  more stops than Tuesday.

In the meantime, Virginia Railway Express (VRE) said it plans to operate normal service Wednesday, but could reduce to an “S” schedule with a decision coming as early as 10 p.m. and definitely before 4:15 a.m. Wednesday.

The MARC train  announced it would continue to offer reduced service Wednesday after doing the same on Tuesday.

Several factors played into OPM’s decision, including reports from the National Weather Service on current and future conditions, power companies, law enforcement authorities, the District, Maryland and Virginia departments of transportation agencies on the road and sidewalk conditions, public transportation providers and school districts, said Dean Hunter, the director of facilities, security and emergency management at OPM, in a Jan. 26 interview on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

“Typically, we have about 200 plus people that are on those calls, so it’s a good opportunity for us in one setting to get all the information we need to make a decision,” Hunter said.

The director of OPM, in this case acting Director Beth Cobert, makes the final call based on all these reports.

Hunter said outside the D.C. region, individual agencies make the decision usually based on the recommendation from the local or regional Federal Executive Boards.

“With every storm we have to look at the timing of it and determine when it’s right, when the best timing it is to make the best decision. Often that’s to wait until we get the latest and greatest information from all partners to make sure we have the decision that is appropriate and it isn’t going to change,” he said. “So we try to make them as early as we can, but only after we have we’ve had this very good collaboration with all of our partners.”

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