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.

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