Weather blitz heads toward $500 million price tag for federal government

Weather blitz heads toward $500 million price tag for federal government

Severe weather could cost taxpayers a half-billion dollars by the end of the week.

The closing of federal offices costs $100 million a day in lost productivity and opportunity costs, according to the Office of Personnel Management. That’s $200 million and counting after OPM closed federal agencies on Monday and Tuesday.

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Tele-working could cure the problem, but a relatively small portion of federal workers have tele-working agreements in place.

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

The situation is different at the White House.

While some White House staff have not been able to get to work, they have been able to work remotely.

“Thanks to modern technology that has not been an issue,” a spokeswoman with the White House said in an e-mail.

White House staff were expected to show up for work if they could arrive safely.

K Street has also been able to go along with the flow despite the closures.

“From my end, there’s still billable hours to do,” said Dave Wenhold, president of the American League of Lobbyists. “The tougher things is when you’re working from home, you’re dealing with the dogs.”

Not to mention the kids. School closings across the region mean those working from home on computers, BlackBerrys and cell phones aren’t interrupted by meetings, but by children.

The 2009 OPM report said almost half of all agencies had not integrated tele-work into their continuity-of-operations planning. It said management resistance was one of the biggest barriers to implementation.

Wenhold said his biggest problem is the approaching deadlines for earmarks at the end of this week. It’s tough to file earmark paperwork for a client if there are no staffers in Congress to work with, he said.

Given the state of streets in the Washington metro area and an impending snowstorm forecast to bring blizzard-like conditions and another 16 inches of powder to the streets, more closures appear likely the rest of the week, meaning $500 million in lost productivity would be possible, according to OPM’s numbers.


Toyota gets reprieve

The bad weather in Washington wasn’t unwelcome for Toyota.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Tuesday it would postpone a hearing on Toyota’s recall for two weeks.

The good news? That gives the beleaguered company a couple weeks to regain its footing.

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The bad news? When it returns from recess, Congress will be doubling down in its scrutiny of the automaker.

Oversight’s hearing is rescheduled for Feb. 24. Oversight’s former chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), has a hearing on Toyota’s problems scheduled the next day on the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Investigations.

Toyota on Tuesday announced a new recall of its Prius models amid escalating concerns about its brake systems. It said it would recall 133,000 Prius 2010 models and 14,500 Lexus HS250 models. On Tuesday, the Transportation Department said it was looking into about 80 complaints it received about steering on the 2009-2010 Corolla, according to The Washington Post.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized to consumers in an op-ed in the Post on Tuesday as the company continued to try to rebuild trust with consumers.

“The past few weeks … have made clear that Toyota has not lived up to the high standards you have come to expect from us,” Toyoda wrote.
 

Exports skepticism

Exports are a new buzzword for an Obama administration increasingly at odds with business.

Much of the business community disliked the healthcare reform and climate change bills that moved through Congress.

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDems punch back over GOP holdup of Biden SBA nominee Biden congratulates Trudeau for winning third term as Canadian prime minister Republicans have moral and financial reasons to oppose raising the debt ceiling MORE also has proposed higher taxes for multinational corporations, and Republicans charge his proposal to phase out former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts on taxpayers who earn more than $250,000 would hit small-business owners.

Businesses are cheering Obama’s promise to double U.S. exports in the next five years in his State of the Union address, but they’re not sure if it means anything for pending trade deals.

Agreements negotiated with South Korea, Colombia and Panama by the Bush administration have been stuck for years. While there’s new talk about exports from the White House, there’s little talk of these deals.

“There’s a push on exports, that’s the difference,” said one trade lobbyist.

Panama is the most likely deal to be sent by Obama to Congress.

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithStumbling plutonium pit project reveals DOE's uphill climb of nuclear modernization Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE (D-Wash.) sees that deal as being “pretty close,” while more controversial deals with Colombia and South Korea are “harder lifts.”