Feds brace for another storm

As another potentially serious snowstorm approached the Washington D.C., area today, the federal government remained closed while some federal employees teleworked and others had the day off, and still others were without power or Internet connection. The region, walloped by up to 30 inches of snow in some locales over the weekend, was barely ready for another round.

The Office of Personnel Management Web site, slammed as employees tried to find out whether they were expected at work, eventually begin showing a message reading, “Due to a very high volume of traffic, the other OPM.gov pages are not available now. Please try again later.” A page announcing that the government is closed today appeared on data.gov. Later in the day, some of the OPM site reopened on a "modified" basis, according to the announcement on data.gov.

On Twitter, user mykevandyke suggested that the heavy snow had caused what amounted to a distributed denial-of-service attack on the OPM site. Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, said today that the OPM.gov site had registered more than 6.1 million total page views in just a five-and-a-half-hour span, when it normally handles only 151,000 in an entire day, according to Ed O'Keee in the Washington Post's Federal Eye column.

Many federal employees can do their jobs remotely, but it is bad policy -- not technology limitations -- that make it hard for some. A commenter calling himself David, posting on FederalSoup.com, wrote: "There is panic and there is stupidity. ... [W]ith more and more agencies turning down or off their 'remote' access for 'security,' there are fewer and fewer options for the remote worker. Many agencies are limiting access to just key employees (despite the push from the Hill to the contrary) which means that hundreds (thousands?) of local contractors are unable to work. We look to technology to 'solve' problems, but when that technology or solutions slam up against backward-thinking management (or financial realities), AND mother nature drops a 100-year storm on a city that even a 'snow city' would have trouble with, closing the [federal government] is the SMART thing to do."

The Defense Department followed the lead of most other federal organizations, limiting its personnel presence to emergency and mission-essential workers only.

Fort Meade, Md., remained closed on Tuesday with the “post operating under curtailed" conditions, according to the installation’s blog. Other installations in the area -- including Fort Belvoir, Andrews Air Force Base, Fort Myer, Fort Detrick and Quantico Marine Base -- were all operating under the same guidelines. Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., said on its Web site that it would close at noon Tuesday for all non-emergency purposes, and a representative answering the phones there said no decisions had been made for Wednesday operations and advised that those seeking information should check back Wednesday morning.

Most DOD organizations’ individual Web sites listed some information on amended schedules, but calls to DOD public affairs were not answered Tuesday afternoon.

About the Authors

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

Reader Comments

Fri, Feb 12, 2010 Cindy

Denny's & 7-11? Really? The local grocery store put its people up in a next door hotel so they could continue operations. Does the taxpayer want to do that for its employees? Get real, it was the storm of the century and ALL employers had to make life and death decisions for its people. If you don't like that then move to Canada.

Fri, Feb 12, 2010 Anthony

The public must understand that in an emergency as cited, most government locations could not keep up with snow removal so that the employee's had a safe place to park. That is normally what dictates a closure, "can we keep the parking lots clear, power on, water flowing". Think about how much luck you had keeping your driveway clear recently. Of course there is always the safety factor, keeping employee's safe and out of the way of snow removal equipment during an emergency. It makes no difference either way to me. If the government is open I will try to get to work, and if I can't get out of my driveway then I won't be in, closure or no closure. It is very rare that the government closes due to weather, so people should focus on their own problems in my opinion, and maybe even get a life. Most government employee's are hard working, self sacrificing individuals. The people who criticize have no clue what we even do to provide the services that every American has come to expect.

Thu, Feb 11, 2010

It amazes me what the public expects of workers supported by tax dollars (federal or state). First, they don't want to support the employee with money. I think we're supposed to work for free. Second, they expect public employees to risk their lives to get to work for a 100-year storm. Then there is the work ethic comment. Do you hear these people who monitor the work ethic checking in to mention the day after day that most government employees show up to do their jobs? No, let's listen to the stories spun by the media about the few a year who mess up and assume everyone is like that. One thing a bureaucracy is good at is producing results from very boring work. Personally, I'm grateful that there are people out there willing to do it!

Wed, Feb 10, 2010 Mike Northern VA

Wow! Comparing peak 'normal' use to a distributed denial of services attack should be great to get the sensationalists going, but it's hardly accurate. When a designer evaluates the number of hits per (?) to design to, it is inefficient to design to the maximum load. It's ineffective to design to the minimum load. Economic realities drive design to the load level that can and should be supported. If I said that if you drive an Abrams tank to take your family to dinner, you won't have to worry about being hit by drunk drivers, that probably should have no effect on your choice of a next family car - or whether you take your family out for dinner. Hopefully, we won't have a rash of overachievers spending inordinate amounts on making all sites maintained by federal entities into something beyond 'resonable and prudent' at the taxpayer's expense... just to avoid any possibility of failure beyond peak designed capacity. About that federal work ethic? I've seen salaried employees that worked to mission completion without submitting for any compensation (overtime or comp-time)... sometimes 16+ hour days. I've also seen some that should have been ashamed to cash their paychecks. My point is simple; somebody needs to catch each incident of 'stereo-typing' and take the perpetrator to have their eyes and IQ checked. Their view of reality seems to be influenced not by rose colored glasses, but rather by clear glasses with brown smeared all over them (fertilizing for a future rosy outlook?).

Wed, Feb 10, 2010

What an idiot. There are tens of thousands of federal employees in the northeast corridor and the road crews DO NOT want them clogging the roads while they are trying to clear them. Add to that the fact that you cannot force someone to use vacation leave. They government had no option but to close. Quitchyerbitchin

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