Uncle Sam reminds federal employees of their shelter in storms

It's summertime, but the living is not so easy -- especially if you're a federal employee living on the Gulf Coast, or one of the other hurricane-prone areas in and around the United States.

We're a month into the 2010 hurricane season, and it promises to be an active one, according to the National Weather Service. Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry issued a July 1 memo to agency chief human capital officers reminding them of the HR policies and flexibilities available to federal employees affected by hurricanes, tropical storms and "associated severe weather disturbances" occurring annually from June 1 through Nov. 30.

For instance, agencies can authorize advance and evacuation pay as well as payments for travel and subsistence expenses for employees ordered to evacuate because of weather or other emergency situation.

Berry also reiterated other flexibilities available to agencies, including direct-hiring authority for certain jobs such as medical officers and information technology managers, as well as the option to bring back to work retirees without applying the dual compensation salary offset. OPM also has the authority to allow agencies to appoint career employees to the Senior Executive Service for up to 18 months to meet an unanticipated and urgent need.

Telework, however, is perhaps the biggest boon to continuity of government operations during inclement weather and other emergencies. "Agencies do not have to designate teleworkers as emergency employees in order to require them to work during closure; however, OPM recommends that each agency anticipates this possibility in its emergency preparedness planning and discusses this with each telework employee in advance," Berry advised in his memo.

But a recent report by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton concluded that the federal government has fallen behind in its adoption of telework programs, leaving agencies unprepared to continue operating during emergency situations.

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