OPM Will Be Better Informed About Storms This Winter

Snow blanketed the Washington area in 2011. Snow blanketed the Washington area in 2011. Jacquelyn Martin/AP file photo

Washington, D.C.-area employees can expect a “normal” winter in the coming months, the National Weather Service said Thursday, and NWS will provide additional details in its forecasts to allow the federal government to make more informed decisions on whether and when employees should report to work during a storm.

In an effort to improve planning and decision making, NWS will modify the information it provides to the Office of Personnel Management and other government entities. Instead of estimating, for example, five inches of snow in a particular storm, the agency will give its minimum estimate, its expected outcome and the maximum amount of snow possible. This will allow government officials to plan for the worst-case scenario, NWS said.

Early indications have made NWS confident this will be a “normal” winter, Steve Zubrick, a D.C.-based NWS official, said at a press briefing to review the government dismissal and closure policies. This will mean around 15 inches of snow in Washington itself, ranging to about 20 inches for Baltimore.

As each storm approaches, Zubrick added, NWS will issue the likelihood of snow accumulation reaching seven distinct benchmarks between 0.1 and 18 inches, to further illustrate the scope of expected outcomes.

OPM announced federal employees in the capital region will now receive a deadline by which they must arrive in the event of a delayed start time due to inclement weather or another emergency situation.

Last year, OPM refined its language to tell employees only when it was safe to drive and when agencies would be open. These directives created confusion as to when employees actually had to show up to work, officials said, and the change attempts to offer more clarity. In the event of a delayed arrival, employees will typically have the option of exercising unscheduled leave or telework.

In deciding whether to delay employees’ arrival time, dismiss them early or close government entirely, OPM’s Deputy Director of Facilities and Contracting Dean Hunter said the human resources agency weighs both safety of the workforce and the importance of maintaining continuity in government.

The winter weather determination process -- which commences whenever the NWS predicts at least one inch of snow accumulation or any ice -- involves a conference call with 250 OPM, transportation, school district, local government and law enforcement officials. OPM then conducts its own call and the director makes a final call.

Brenda Roberts, who oversees leave administration at OPM, emphasized the importance of every federal office establishing telework policy with each employee. All workers should have written telework agreements, Roberts said, though no employee should be forced to telework. Since 2000, OPM has used unscheduled leave and telework more than any other irregular operating status.

OPM determines the operating status for all agencies and offices located in the D.C. area, while local Federal Executive Boards make the call for employees located throughout the rest of the country. 

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