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OPM’s Berry: Early closure was the right call

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Washington was flummoxed by yesterday’s flash snowfall, which came right at rush hour and caused an astounding 13-hour traffic jam. This, of course, is a town that loves to find a scapegoat in such circumstances, and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry seems to want to deflect any attempt to put the blame on him. He said at a press conference this afternoon that he stands by his decision to close the government two hours early, and would do it all over again.

Berry said that thousands of federal employees seem to have not taken the early departure option. If properly executed, Berry said the departure of some 300,000 Washington-area feds would have been staggered throughout the afternoon and gotten most people safely home before the snow.

The key, Berry said, is to leave two hours before your standard punch-out time — not once the snow starts. Because many feds come to work early — some as early as 4:30 a.m., he said — some could have been driving home at 11:30 a.m., when the early closure was announced. “Hypothetically, people should have been leaving as early as 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Berry said. “That way, we don’t dump everybody on the road at the same time.”

But many feds didn’t, including Berry’s own secretary, because there wasn’t a flake to be seen for much of the afternoon. “It’s just human nature,” Berry said. His secretary “stayed at work because she looked out of the window and didn’t see snow. She regretted it later. That was the fastest accumulating storm I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

And when the snow started rapidly accumulating, Berry said, the many feds who were still in their offices seem to have taken to their cars all at once (including President Obama). This snarled the Beltway, GW Parkway, I-66, and many of Washington’s other major arteries (which are already clogged on the best of days) and completely collapsed the traffic infrastructure.

“What I hope comes out of this is that people will more seriously take our advice,” Berry said.

Berry doesn’t think closing the government even earlier than he did would have made a difference, and reminded reporters that he doesn’t have the authority to order feds to evacuate their offices and go home. That’s up to the Homeland Security Department, and is only to be used in dire emergencies such as Sept. 11-scale attacks.

And for hours yesterday, Berry was looking at the snowless skies, wondering if he had blown the call and needlessly closed the government.

“If there was no snow, you would be yelling at me right now for letting people go,” Berry said.

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Comments

  1. Phil Says:
    January 27th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    Could this guy be more full of himself? How about closing the gov’t at 1:00 PM, instead of a 2 hour delay. And WHY didn’t they close on Thursday after the entire workforce spent hours on the roads the night before. Thats not how you treat your staff, any manager knows that. The country will function just fine for 36 hours without the bulk of the DC work force.

  2. Cynthia Says:
    January 28th, 2011 at 6:46 am

    Mr. John Berry,

    Failed to mention that the closing of the Federal Government does not apply to essential Federal Personnel. They have to work no matter what, for the safety of the USA.

  3. cat Says:
    January 30th, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Many of the workforce members were not privy to the updated televised news & weather reports like perhaps the upper echelon is with tv sets in their offices. I dvr my soaps [ch9] and watch them whenever I can. Several days later I am able to view my show for that day, [Wed., 26th] and see the weather news break into the scheduled show and witness their continual reporting of the storm starting to hammer those areas north and west of the beltway. If most commuters were aware of that situation and could leave right then and there [noon time], they probably would have. However, many commuters ARE at the mercy of scheduled buses and MARC trains. Both trains and buses were later hampered by both excess passengers and the weather as well. People getting off the trains when it pulled into the stations and then getting into their vehicles for the continued ride home were met with even further delays because the roads were so bad. A drive that normally takes 30 minutes or less was over 6 hours that night even after taking advantage of the early dismissal.

  4. Julie Says:
    January 31st, 2011 at 8:36 am

    Be glad you had a closurel. A few years ago we had a bad snow the Governor issue a state of emergency and said if anyone was on the interstates they would get a ticket. Our Manager did not close the Office. I took annual leave but it was crazy.

  5. Fedline » Unscheduled leave, telework for DC Tuesday; Chicago faces “life-threatening” blizzard Says:
    January 31st, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    [...] but OPM seems to want to get way out in front of this storm. (Last week’s flash snowstorm and epic gridlock showed just how much havoc a little poor weather and lack of preparation can wreak on the [...]