Haha — hear the one about the pandemic snow day?

Radio listeners in the Washington, D.C., region might have chuckled this morning when their favorite stations started, in the wee hours, to broadcast school and other institutional closings. Most public schools have been closed for nearly a year because of the pandemic.

Plus, uniquely in the D.C. area came the announcement that federal employees have the option for unscheduled telework or leave. This, when since last March something like 90% of federal office employees have been teleworking because of the you-know-what.

People in the warm climates shrug, saying to themselves, “glad I don’t live in that kind of weather.” People who live where real winter occurs snort at the paralysis that, in normal times, overtakes the nation’s capital when 2 inches of snow fall, about what we ended up getting.

I admit, though, even I teleworked Monday, sipping coffee in one of the empty bedrooms converted into a rather well-equipped recording studio. With broadband, VPN and remote desktop access, it’s almost like being in my Federal News Network studio, only with different ergonomics. After more than 40 years of driving to work in snowstorms, there’s a certain appeal in working while watching the sidewalk below and observing a neighbor stoop to pick up, in an orange Washington Post bag, the poop his dog dropped on the pristine snow covering my lawn.

The snow day also got me thinking, now is the time for the Biden administration to figure out exactly what new telework policy for the government should look like. Then start putting it into place.

Everyone says work patterns will never return to what they were, especially now that the technology in place has shown how effective teleworking has proven. That’s a wish, though, not a policy. Somewhere on the continuum of no telework to total telework is the right set point. Many potential questions arise that need answers. Among them:

  • Should all agencies follow a uniform policy? A corollary question, how much discretion do agency heads get?
  • Will telework be at-will for everyone, or must each person have an approved plan? I mean, there is something to be said for knowing where your colleagues will be on a given day.
  • Who or what positions should default back to in-office?
  • Is there some target maximum percentage of employees our offices need to accommodate? Because what’s the use of having all this real estate and expense if its never going to get more than 57% or 32% or 87% utilization?
  • Will there never be another federal retirement luncheon?

Serious questions, and they need answers soon. Eventually the vaccine distribution tangle will get straightened out. And presuming a swarm of vaccine-proof sons-of-COVID don’t spew forth from the bacterial swamp, we’ll get back to normal life.

The last administration had a surprisingly effective plan for helping industry invent a vaccine. But it improvised, to put it charitably, on the crucial plan for distributing the vaccine. Thus the barely cogent system for actually getting the stuff into people’s arms.

Now the Biden administration is bearing down on distribution. However the private sector gets back to work will be the private sector’s problem. However the government operates post-pandemic is something the administration should also be planning now.

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