Federal offices in the Washington, DC area are closed today in response to the still-lingering effects of a record-breaking snowstorm. (The picnic table on our deck has white icing at least 20 inches deep.) Public transportation is crawling back into service.
Some federal workers are still expected to show up -- the "essential workers" who provide security, heat and power, and snow removal for federal buildings. While many people consider themselves "essential," only a few really are. I certainly recall, during my days as a Senate staffer, trudging through snow or staying overnight at my desk to be sure I was available and helpful to my boss. That spirit continues: the U.S. Senate will be in session today to continue speeches and votes on the health care reform bill.
The decision on closing or delaying the opening of federal offices is the responsibility of the director of the Office of Personnel Management [OPM]. Full closings are quite rare; more common are one- or two-hour delays or what is called "unscheduled leave." That finding means that workers can stay home, where they normally would be required to get a supervisor's advance approval to miss work.
Until sometime during the Clinton Administration, the term used was "liberal leave." I always felt better about that phrasing, since I could argue: only liberals can take leave; conservatives have to show up and work.