Outside of the local area probably nobody noticed, but last Wednesday the federal government was closed in DC.
The night before OPM (Office of Personnel Management) said that the federal government was open and that everybody should report to work on time. My initial reaction was, in light of the weather reports, planning to keep the offices open was a political stunt related to managing visuals post sequestration.
As predicted by the weather forecasters, heavy snow was coming down before and during morning rush hour with snow predicted to last all day. However, OPM had already changed their mind during the night and closed federal offices for the day.
Overall, it was not really that bad weather wise and some people could have gone to work without an issue. However, others were under a foot of snow. Further, the whole eastern shore was cut off when high winds caused the closure of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.
Further complicating such decisions is the fact that the region is almost always on the border of the snow-rain boundary. Consequently, part of the region can get slammed by snow while another part is unaffected; in addition, some areas are as likely to be made dangerous with ice.
Did OPM do the right thing in closing the offices, or should they have stayed open? That isn’t really the point of this post.
This was a situation of uncertainty and risk. In controlling for that risk, OPM made a one size fits all solution, which was in fact with the benefit of hindsight appropriate for some but not for others.
In the case of opening or closing the federal offices, OPM had another option that it did not take: liberal leave allows individuals to judge for themselves the risks and take responsibility for their actions. In the past, pre-Obama, this has been the most common response by the government to inclement weather.
Risk management is at the core of most efforts expanding government power. The idea is that Americans should not be free to make errors in individual decisions, but the government has to regulate and approve decisions related to the risks in our lives. When the government does so, it applies a uniform rule to everyone by law even if the reasoning of the rule does not apply to them in fact.
The uniform imposed government rule, which drops the context of individual circumstances and choice, has actually increased uncertainty and increased risk by allowing arbitrary changes and centralizing risks into one point of failure.