Snow In DC Brings Jokes, Questions

WaPo federal beat reporter Ed O’Keefe helpfully notes that,

Washington, D.C.-area federal offices will operate today under “liberal leave” or “unscheduled leave” and delayed arrival status, meaning employees who cannot make it to work can request off, or should otherwise arrive to work no more than two hours later than normal, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

In addition to perennially spawing jokes about liberals leaving (not to mention “They’re protesting global warming in a snowstorm”) this practice has perplexed me since my move to the area a few years back.

I understand, say, deciding to open offices at 10 am on the theory that the temperatures will have warmed up sufficiently by then to thaw the ice.  Instead, though, they want people in “no more than two hours later than normal.”  Since federal workers are typically on flex schedules, that means some people will be expected to be in at 8 rather than 6 while others will be expected to be in at 11 instead of 9 or 1 instead of 11.

What sense does that make?

UPDATE:   After reading through the comments, the answer is “It depends.”   The policy makes sense if:

1. It’s read as “take your time coming in” rather than “report at your normal time plus two hours.”

2. One presumes that the weather will cause even more people than normal to rely on public transit.

3. It’s viewed as a CYA measure rather than a transportation plan.

And, really, all those points have merit.

Photo by Flickr user brownpau under Creative Commons license.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. jen says:

    None, of course. This is the government you’re talking about. Nothing about our government makes sense.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, there is that, of course. Still . . .

  3. PD Shaw says:

    What? This is Casimir Pulaski Day, is the federal government racist?

  4. sam says:

    When I lived in New England, and, was a good doobie, on a few occassions I spent 3+ hours getting to work, only to be told that we were closing the offices at 1 so that “we could get home in a reasonable time.” Time spent at work: 1 hour; time spent to and from: 6 hours. I did that about twice, I think, before the next time, when I said screw that, and called in saying forget it.

  5. mattt says:

    Congestion is an even bigger problem when driving conditions are bad. So the last thing you’d want to do is cancel flex time and have everybody due at 10.

    If you’re usually due at 6 and can’t make it by 8, think about taking the whole day off. If you came in at 10 you’d only be working a 4 hour day anyway. Go shovel some old ladies’ sidewalks instead.

    Perfect sense, really. But I guess it’s more fun to bash the bureaucracy.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Congestion is an even bigger problem when driving conditions are bad. So the last thing you’d want to do is cancel flex time and have everybody due at 10.

    But if the roads are clear enough to drive that early, just operate under normal hours!

  7. JKB says:

    Your forgetting the much imposed public transportation commuting pushed in DC. The delay is really to cover delays in the trains and busses not just the flexible car commuter. If you simply switched everyone to 10 am, no way the holy grail public transportation could cope.

    Bad enough that after taking the train in with the outgoing not starting for hours, they shutdown the building and force everybody out a hour or so later. Fortunately, the commuter train systems have come to expect this foolishness and start a train out early but it is usually stuffed.

    All in all the federal statement is backside covering. Fewer complaints about not considering the commuters from WV and outlying suburbs and fewer complaints about closing down for no reason.

    It is fortunate that the new admin didn’t screw up the decision. It usually takes a couple of storms for new GAO appointees to realize they got to get up at 4 am to make weather calls. Responsibility is a bitch. But the new admin might explain why the announcement was a catch-all and future ones will be more focused due to experience.

  8. Wayne says:

    “no more than two hours later”

    I know it sounds odd but seem practically reasonable. The key is “no more”. With the added frustration from the added congestion and measurable weather, why not decrease tension by giving people extra time in case they run into trouble? Work productivity will suffer but it usually does in bad weather anyway.

  9. Tracy says:

    I’m not sure how often DC gets snow, but if “if the roads are clear enough to drive that early, just operate under normal hours” was the policy in the midwest, nothing would ever be open on winter mornings. Even without traffic, it’s understood that some roads aren’t plowed as soon as others – meaning that problems can exist throughout the day – and employers understand if you have to be late. Residents are used to snow, and businesses have to open in weather that requires slow driving, or they would be closed for half the season – sometimes bad driving conditions last for days. After the first day, you can be expected to know how bad it is and plan accordingly, but on the first day after/during snow it’s not always easy to plan well because you don’t know always which areas have been cleared and which haven’t, and people getting stuck or having accidents can cause further delays.

    From a midwestern point of view, it makes perfect sense. As I said, I’m not familiar with DC weather patterns. If you can reasonably expect the snow to have been melted by 10 and the congestion to have cleared, then yes, it makes more sense to just open at 10. If they drive anything like people in the south during snow, though, the delays caused by accidents are still a very valid problem throughout the morning.

  10. JKB says:


    DC is incompetent with snow although they get good snow storms most years. In the past, the city has failed to plow residential streets for a week or more after a snow. So after the first day, you have a nice sheet of ice.

    The suburbs do better. And further out, people know they have to get to the main road by the own device.