The Office of Personnel Management reminded agencies that they have a number of flexibilities available to them to deal with employees displaced by Hurricane Florence on the East Coast and Tropical Storm Olivia in Hawaii. In the Sept. 13 memo, OPM Director Jeff Pon outlined recent changes to weather and safety leave, and the system for authorizing pay for employees forced to evacuate.
Under the Administrative Leave Act of 2016, agencies may grant weather and safety leave due to an “act of God,” a terrorist attack or other emergency condition that prevents employees from safely traveling to or performing work at the office or other work site. Weather and safety leave usually applies when OPM issues an operating status announcement.
The new regulations, effective since May, say that employees who participate in a telework program will usually not be granted weather and safety leave as long as they can safely work from an approved telework site.
The memo also reminds agencies that they have discretionary authority to offer advance payments, continuation of pay and payments for travel and subsistence when employees are forced to evacuate.
Finally, agencies can request OPM establish an Emergency Leave Transfer Program any time the president declares a major disaster or emergency. President Donald Trump has done so for North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Hawaii and the Northern Mariana Islands, according to a White House press release.
Federal agencies are currently deploying disaster response personnel to areas expected to be impacted by Hurricane Florence. The White House press release said more than 4,000 federal employees are currently providing support in response to the storms.
Alex Amparo, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s deputy assistant administrator of the National Preparedness Directorate, said during a press briefing that, while the number is constantly fluctuating as FEMA deals with a fluid situation, FEMA currently has upwards of 1,500 employees, including 1,135 Urban Search and Rescue personnel, in the field.
In addition, Amparo said that the agency has been pre-positioning equipment in logistical staging areas for days now, including hundreds of generators, 300 ambulances, meals and drinking water.
The Army Corps of Engineers has two teams working in Virginia and the Carolinas, the Department of Health and Human Services has five Disaster Medical Assistance Teams deployed, and the Coast Guard is preparing to respond in Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also deployed for Hurricane Florence. EPA personnel are monitoring chemical and oil facilities, superfund sites, the status of both drinking water and wastewater, and watching for hazardous substances that could be released by the storm. EPA is also in contact with state and local governments, ready to respond should more assistance be requested.
Federal employees from various agencies, including FEMA and EPA, are participating in various federal and regional emergency management coordination centers. FEMA activated its National Response Coordination Center Sept. 12, and it is currently operating on 24 hour activation.
“The safety of American people is my absolute highest priority. We are sparing no expense,” said Trump.