OPM pushes alternate work schedules while feds feel strain of Metro maintenance

OPM is pushing agencies to develop plans to deal with Metro maintenance, while feds are already seeing longer commutes and more traffic.

The Office of Personnel Management is reminding agencies to develop plans to do what they can to ease commuting struggles for their employees. The first week of Metro’s 10-month SafeTrack plan is in full swing, and many feds are feeling the effects.

OPM sent out a memo on June 8 detailing the many varieties of alternate work schedules (AWS) and their applicable situations. Like a large-scale passive aggressive note, it never explicitly told agencies to implement AWS for employees, but went to great lengths to ensure they know how. It explained every type of AWS and how it functions, as well as different factors to consider, like premium and holiday pay.

The memo also emphasized early on that the onus is entirely on agencies, and OPM is not issuing blanket decisions.

“One size does not fit all,” the memo read. “Agencies will need to make decisions on which AWS schedules to adopt (if any) based on the impact of the SafeTrack project on their agency mission and employees.”

Federal News Radio conducted a survey over three days during the first week of the SafeTrack plan and found that many feds are already feeling the impact, with 85 percent of respondents seeing an increase in commute times. Almost half the respondents said that their commutes had increased by more than half an hour, and about 13 percent said they were more than an hour longer than usual.

However, more than half of the respondents said their agencies had offered no options to their standard work schedules. Telework was the most common option, with 38 percent of respondents saying it was available to them. Only 14 percent of respondents said their agencies were offering alternate work schedules.

One respondent said that their agency has had compressed and alternate work schedules for years, but employees were not being allowed to temporarily adjust them to accommodate the difficult commute. The respondent also said that their agency’s IT security — or lack thereof — prohibited telework.

Another fed said that in addition to a longer commute, the cost had increased as well. They said that when they took a shuttle past the affected stations, they then had to pay the Metro fare a second time to ride it the rest of the way home.

OPM’s memo also advised agencies to collaborate with unions to “develop solutions jointly.” However, it also noted that union employees may only work AWS to the extent that collective bargaining agreements allow, and while unions and agencies may mutually agree to expand these schedules, a  number of factors need to be considered that may prove to be prohibitive barriers to AWS.

“These factors include, but are not limited to, whether a feasibility study is needed, whether the expansion should be done on a trial basis, and whether the agreement will permit the agency to terminate the program without showing an ‘adverse agency impact,’” the memo said.

When Metro shut down due to emergency repairs on March 16, OPM offered telework, alternate work schedules or unscheduled leave to all qualified federal employees. However, many feds expressed dissatisfaction with the decision, which may be why OPM is trying a new strategy this time around.

The extended and varying nature of the plan may be a factor as well. A number of respondents to the survey expressed concern that the situation would only get worse over the 10-month period. Some even questioned whether the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority would be able to stick to its timeline without extending it.

“If this is going to go on for a year, they need to figure out a better way to manage it. This is not sustainable,” one respondent said.

More respondents said that safety was an ongoing concern, equating an increase in vehicles on the road with an increase in traffic, saying that the longer this situation lasts, the more frustrated people will become.

One thing is certain: as two respondents noted, “It’s going to be a long summer.”

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