Agencies in Twin Cities have a peaceful week

Altered bus schedules, lack of parking during GOP convention are the biggest inconveniences so far for federal employees in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Federal agencies in the Twin Cities have experienced little disruption to their operations during this week's Republican National Convention, said the head of the Minnesota Federal Executive Board in an interview Wednesday.

"It's really not had an impact other than some agencies have adopted a flex schedule where they came in early and left earlier, especially those in downtown St. Paul," said Ray Morris, executive director of the state's FEB. "[The Internal Revenue Service] has a citizen center that was closed for the week. The second-largest Social Security office in the country is open for business all throughout the week. Most of the real demonstrations happened along with the [delegate] meetings, so the impact on agencies doing their normal business has been minimal."

Some agency employees have been teleworking, while others have taken leave or gone on vacation this week, Morris said. But the protests that produced hundreds of Labor Day arrests in Minnesota largely have bypassed federal agencies, with altered bus schedules and unusually full parking lots the biggest inconveniences that federal employees have faced so far.

Morris credited that success to a robust planning process, a long history of collaboration with state and local officials, and lessons learned from the state's two disasters last year. Convention planning began six months ago, and Morris said that process included tests of the executive board's communications systems, biweekly updates to federal agency offices in Minnesota and to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and conversations with state and local partners, with whom the board has strong relationships.

Those relationships were tested in 2007 when a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people. The state also experienced major flooding due to heavy rains last year. Morris said the responses to those crises provided a template for the convention.

"We're completely networked [with state and local agencies]," he said. "In an event of this magnitude, it makes it a little bit easier that we didn't have to reinvent anything or change anything."

Morris said Minnesota also closely watched the Democratic National Convention in Denver during the week of Aug. 25, in preparation for events in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

"We picked up from law enforcement, and we picked up from checking with the media the different ramifications that were presented in the Denver DNC," Morris said, adding that Minnesota's FEB performed confidential threat assessments on both political conventions.

The protests also were not a surprise, he said: "We thought we'd have more protests than we've seen in Denver, so we weren't blindsided in any way."

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