High-tech White House soldiers on as snow shuts down Washington

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Federal agencies were closed on Monday and Tuesday at an estimated cost of $100 million a day in lost productivity and opportunity costs, according to the calculation of the Office of Personnel Management.

The government closed down again on Wednesday amid white-out conditions in downtown D.C., and more closings appear likely he rest of the week.

Tele-working could help, but relatively few federal workers have tele-working agreements.

A 2009 report by OPM said 102,900 federal staffers were tele-working, out of a total of 1.96 million employees. That’s an increase from past years, but it still represents a small portion — a fraction over 5 percent — of the federal workforce.

The 2009 OPM report said almost half of all agencies had not integrated tele-work into their contingency plans for occasions when circumstances make it hard to continue operations, as has been the case this snowbound week. The report said management resistance was one of the biggest barriers to modernization and change.

Improving technology is getting a serious look from the Obama administration.


A few weeks ago, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said a big reason for ineffective and inefficient government is Washington’s outdated technology, with federal workers having better computers at home than in the office.

“Twenty years ago, people who came to work in the federal government had better technology at work than at home,” said Orszag. “Now that’s no longer the case. The American people deserve better service from their government, and better return for their tax dollars.”

John Berry, the director of OPM, sees tele-work as helping employees balance work and family. He has also written of benefits in reducing pollution and saving energy.

But he concluded the 2009 report by noting that it showed “a steady albeit very slow progress” in tele-work.