The Office of Personnel Management just announced that federal offices in the Washington area will be open Wednesday, after two days of closures due to Hurricane Sandy. However, non-emergency employees will have the option to telework, or use unscheduled leave if they need to. That means they can use leave options such as earned annual leave, compensatory time off, or leave without pay, or they can rearrange their work week under a flexible work schedule, if possible.
Hurricane Sandy is nowhere near done pummeling the D.C. area tonight, but FedLine can’t help noticing how the storm has already showered attention on the federal government’s role in anticipating and responding to disasters.
Last Friday, for example, The New York Times ran a front-page article on how delays in development of the next generation of weather satellites could jeopardize future forecasting. That risk would not have come as news to Federal Times readers, but the mainstream media had previously paid little attention to the issue.
Since then, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney has had to fend off questions over whether he wants to cut funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And at least one network newscast this evening carried a feature story on the Coast Guard’s rescue earlier in the day of 14 crew members from a replica of the H.M.S. Bounty that foundered off the coast of North Carolina.
This is not to say that Washington does everything well (as the Times story points out, mismanagement has been one factor in throwing the weather satellite program off track), or that it’s unreasonable to ask whether some missions can be carried out differently or more efficiently. But whether you think the federal government’s size is too big, too small or just right, there is no denying that we currently expect it to play a very large role in situations like this. And if it doesn’t take that responsibility, it is reasonable to ask: Who will?
Hurricane Sandy has claimed another workday in the Washington area. The Office of Personnel Management just announced that DC-area offices will be closed again Tuesday, Oct. 30.
The Supreme Court also rescheduled Tuesday’s arguments for Thursday, Nov. 1.
UPDATE: Tuesday’s closure will operate by the same rules as today: Emergency employees still must show up unless their bosses say otherwise, and employees who were already scheduled to or required to telework will still have to telework.
The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund just responded to some questions I had about the state of their disaster relief finances, and the outlook is not good.
“At this point, our natural disaster budget is completely blown,” said Robyn Kehoe, FEEA’s director of field operations said in an e-mail. Later this week, FEEA will have $35,000 on hand to start distributing, thanks to an end-of-year donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield it expects to receive this week. But $35,000 doesn’t go very far — it’s only enough to pay for $500 grants for 70 feds. FEEA will need additional donations to keep distributing funds after Blue Cross’ $35,000 runs out, Kehoe said.
“The $35,000 from BCBS is huge for us in making sure we can at least start handing out grants for Sandy,” Kehoe said.
After Hurricane Isaac struck in August, FEEA handed out more than $80,000 in grants and no-interest loans to nearly 600 feds. That chewed through all of the disaster funds FEEA had on hand.
But FEEA’s natural disaster funds haven’t had any reserves to draw on since 2007′s Hurricane Gustav, Kehoe said. That year, FEEA paid out roughy $800,000 more than it took in.
FEEA will also provide no-interest loans of up to $1,000 to Hurricane Sandy victims, Kehoe said.
Federal and postal employees who are hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy will be able to get disaster grants of up to $500, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund announced this morning.
FEEA said employees who need help can download a disaster relief application here, since phone lines will likely be jammed or down. Feds who have suffered the most serious damage or hardships will get priority, FEEA said.
FEEA is a nonprofit organization funded in part by Combined Federal Campaign donations. But the group said its funds have been depleted significantly since it provided more than $80,000 in grants and no-interest loans to almost 600 feds after Hurricane Issac, and it is soliciting more donations.