- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Federal government workers who expected to get a snow day yesterday were unpleasantly surprised when several inches of snow failed to produce a paid day off.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) opted to keep government offices open, angering some of the area's estimated 250,000 federal workers who said the decision created an unnecessary safety risk for commuters traveling slick, snow-covered roads.
"I did a 360-degree turn on one of the major roads and almost slammed into another car on my way to work," said Pam Rogers, a federal employee from Silver Spring who works in downtown Washington. "Doesn't the government know how dangerous it is out there?"
OPM officials, including Director Kay Coles James, decided around 4 a.m. to keep government agencies open and implement an unscheduled leave policy for nonessential employees. The decision means federal employees will be charged leave or leave-without-pay for failing to report to work.
"It takes more than 5 inches of snow to shut down the federal government," said Mike Orenstein, a spokesman for OPM. "We think that's what taxpayers would want us to do."
Over the last several years, the government closed its offices twice because of inclement weather. Offices were closed for four days in a one-week period in 1996, and for two consecutive days in 2000, Mr. Orenstein said.
Still, many federal workers argued that government officials didn't consider employee safety when the call was made to keep offices open.
"We got warnings left and right to stay off the roads," said B. Gonzalez, a federal employee from Arlington. "Sure, we could have stayed home, but then we lose a vacation day, or you feel guilty about not coming in if all your co-workers made it in."
Authorities in Maryland, Virginia and the District urged residents to stay off the roads if they could throughout the morning.
"We've got wrecks everywhere," said Sgt. D.A. Shaver, spokesman for the Virginia State Police. "We're calling troopers in to handle the influx, but it will get worse before it gets better."
Despite the storm, most private companies and retail stores in the area remained open.
Mr. Orenstein said OPM is "very sensitive" to workers' safety concerns, and that's why the agency implemented the unscheduled leave policy.
"We really are sensitive to employees' safety concerns," Mr. Orenstein said. "We realize some people would not be able to make it in because of child care issues, or safety concerns. And by putting this policy into place, we wanted to facilitate that process. We wanted to make it a hassle-free day."
The article is based in part on wire service reports.

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