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Winter officially begins next week. As you may already know, OPM is responsible for deciding when to change the Federal government’s operating status in the Washington, D.C. area, and for getting the word out about any changes.
While we are all hoping for an uneventful winter weather season, I want to make sure all Federal employees know what to do when severe weather hits.
I take many factors into consideration when deciding the status of Federal government operations inside the Beltway. The most important is the safety of the Federal workforce and the surrounding community. Our employees are our most important asset. The second concern is continuity of operations. The government never really closes. Emergency response personnel and teleworkers keep our operations going even when employees can’t physically get to work.
During a live-streamed event earlier today, Dean Hunter, OPM's Director of Facilities, Security and Contracting, explained the decision-making process, and Brenda Roberts, OPM’s Deputy Associate Director of Pay & Leave, gave an overview of the policy that informs those decisions.
Brenda also told us about the change to this year’s policy. OPM is revising an outdated leave practice of allowing employees who are already scheduled to be on paid leave when the Federal government closes to take excused absences. With the change, if Federal offices close, employees who are on pre-approved leave remain on leave, rather than switching to an “excused absence” status.
We made this change to take into consideration today’s workplace flexibilities. With the increasing use of telework to help us assure continuity of operations, it’s now obsolete to provide excused absences for those employees already scheduled to be on leave when an emergency hits.
We had two guests with us at today’s webcast. Chris Strong, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Weather Service, helped us understand how the weather service informs OPM about upcoming storms and the difficulties in predicting those weather events.
We were also joined by Caroline Laurin, deputy chief spokesperson for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). Because so many Federal employees take public transportation to work, it’s crucial for all of us to know the status of trains and buses by consulting with WMATA. The authority relies on our decisions to let them know how many crews, trains, and buses are needed for rush hour commutes during difficult weather. Caroline stressed how important it is that employees comply with OPM’s status decisions.
We need to be prepared for weather and unexpected emergencies all year round. It is important that agencies and their employees know their personnel designations, telework policies, and emergency preparedness plans before an event occurs. The past few years have taught us that our dismissal and closure procedures extend beyond winter weather emergencies and can be necessary at any time.
We want to make sure that Federal workers stay safe and that we continue to serve the American people even during times of difficult weather events. And the best way to make sure that happens is for everyone to be informed.
So, please take a few minutes to read the updated Dismissal and Closure Guide on the OPM website. And if you didn't get a chance to tune into the panel discussion, it's available on our YouTube channel.
As we begin this year’s Labor Day celebration, I want to take a minute to thank each and every member of our Federal family for your hard work and for the excellent service you provide the American people. One way for us to honor your efforts is to make sure you have the flexibilities you need to help balance your life at work and at home.
From the moment he took office, President Obama has promoted and supported the kind of flexible benefits that will help us recruit, empower and retain a world class Federal workforce. During the historic White House summit on Working Families on June 23, the President signed a memorandum outlining his vision for such a workplace culture.
OPM recently issued guidance to Federal agencies to make sure that we deliver on the President’s vision.
Workplace flexibilities go beyond the traditional annual leave, sick leave and family and medical leave. Working with their supervisors, Federal employees have the right to request alternative work schedules, job-sharing, telework, part-time work and leave transfer programs.
Our memorandum reminds agencies that they “must not create arbitrary and unnecessary barriers” that would keep employees from asking to take advantage of workplace flexibilities. And I will be asking agencies to report to me about what best practices they are using to create a culture and workplace environment that supports the use of these programs. I also want agencies to report any barriers that may unnecessarily restrict the use of these flexibilities so we can work together to remove obstacles.
The bottom line is, I don’t want Federal employees to worry about retaliation when they seek work schedule flexibilities. And we want to make sure agencies have the procedures and policies in place to create a culture that allows employees to feel comfortable making requests.
We talk a lot here about employee morale and how to best create a workplace where employees feel engaged and appreciated. What better way for us to show our appreciation for the incredible work our 2 million-strong, talented workforce does than to be sensitive to the tug employees often feel between their desire to do their jobs and the need to take care of a family situation or emergency.
What’s more, these flexibilities are not just good for employees. I know that if you believe, when a family emergency comes up, that your manager will bend over backwards to accommodate you, you will go the extra mile when a critical situation arises at work.
We are one Federal family. We need to look out for each other, help each other and trust each other to do the best for the American people we serve.
Enjoy your well-deserved Labor Day holiday!
We all think we’re old hands when it comes to sitting in downtown D.C. traffic while a visiting dignitary or presidential motorcade needs to pass.
Take it from me. You haven’t seen anything yet.
Dozens of motorcades will be going through the Federal city on Tuesday and Wednesday as the President hosts the United States-Africa Leaders Summit. This gathering is expected to be the largest event any U.S. President has ever held with the heads of state and government leaders from Africa.
Despite the closed streets, difficulty parking and traffic, the Federal government will remain open for business. I urge you to work with your supervisors and managers to come up with a plan that lets you get the job done with the least amount of hassle.
The good news is that we are prepared. Just like when a harsh winter storm, summer derecho or any other natural disaster hits, OPM has thought through how best to keep the government operating while keeping our Federal workforce family safe.
And one of our strongest tools is telework. Federal employees are teleworking at an all-time high. In the D.C. area, 70 percent of employees are telework eligible.
So I urge you to think about how best to handle this upcoming traffic situation. Whether you drive to work or take public transportation, you should allow extra time if you are coming into the District. You should also consider taking advantage of such flexibilities as Alternative Work Schedule, taking leave or, as I said, teleworking.
One thing I am sure of: Our world class Federal workforce will – as you always do – find a way to make sure we continue to provide excellent service to the American people.
For a full listing of street closures, click here.
For a handy map of impacted areas, click here.
I was honored to speak at the White House Summit on Working Families. The conference, co-hosted by the Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress, brought together business and labor leaders, economists, policy makers, advocates and everyday citizens to discuss policy solutions that can make a real difference in the lives of working families and ensure America’s global competitiveness in the coming decades.
At the conference, President Obama unveiled his memorandum designed to enhance workplace flexibilities and work-life programs. The President also directed OPM to work with agencies to promote the use of such programs, ranging from telework to alternative work schedules to leave programs. OPM will be responsible for assessing agency programs, educating employees and their managers, and promoting a culture that encourages and supports these flexibilities.
I participated in a panel called the Structure of the Workplace. It focused on the importance of having workplace flexibilities and what they mean to employees. Here’s just one example: When employees know that their boss will bend over backwards to accommodate them when a family emergency comes up, then they will be willing to go the extra mile when a critical situation arises at work. The result? Happier and more productive employees. That’s the culture we need.
With the President’s encouragement and through our partnership with the agencies, we will work to remove barriers that exist in fostering that culture. And every Federal employee will be an integral part of making it happen.
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