Snow Paralyzes Federal Government The heavy snow in the mid-Atlantic region has paralyzed Washington. The city has received record-setting snow, and the federal government has been closed as a result. Joe Davidson, the Federal Diary columnist for The Washington Post, discusses the work that's not getting done by the federal government due to weather.
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Snow Paralyzes Federal Government

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Snow Paralyzes Federal Government

Snow Paralyzes Federal Government

Snow Paralyzes Federal Government

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123537437/123537408" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The heavy snow in the mid-Atlantic region has paralyzed Washington. The city has received record-setting snow, and the federal government has been closed as a result. Joe Davidson, the Federal Diary columnist for The Washington Post, discusses the work that's not getting done by the federal government due to weather.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The federal government is closed for a second day, and with another major snowstorm bearing down on the Northeast, there's a very real possibility of an extended shutdown.

Yesterday, we heard from John Berry, the man who makes the call on the government shutdowns. He said it's not an easy decision in part because of the price tag.

Mr. JOHN BERRY (Director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management): You know, it's an opportunity cost of - we put a rough ballpark on this of about $100 million.

NORRIS: Berry went on to explain that the government does not shut down completely. Essential employees have to report for duty and some workers can use computers to do their jobs at home. But we wondered about all the work that's not getting done when the federal government goes dark.

For answers, we turn to Joe Davidson. He writes the Federal Diary column for The Washington Post. And he joins us from his home where he happens to be working today.

Hello, Joe.

Mr. JOE DAVIDSON (Columnist, The Washington Post): Yeah, I'm doing a little bit of telecommuting myself today.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Well, can you give us any examples of places where there might be a total work stoppage when the federal government shuts down?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, you know, it's hard to say that there will be a total work stoppage, really, because not all of the government's work is done in Washington. There are regional offices around the country; most of them are likely still working. Having said that, though, obviously much of the stuff that they do at the regional level needs to be approved at the national level. And so if people are not working in Washington, then at least some of that will probably be at least delayed.

It's not like these things will simply drop off of the agenda because they're going to be approved once people come back to work. But there definitely will be some delay.

NORRIS: So projects that might get kicked down the curb are timetables that might be thrown off.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Yeah, exactly. And in some cases this could be very important to people down on the ground, as we say, who are waiting to get approvals for certain projects, or in some cases waiting to getting checks from different government agencies. And so, some of this delay can obviously be important to particular individuals and programs.

NORRIS: What about things like Medicare payments or benefits checks, or payments to contractors or universities that run major research projects? Is there any possibility that that might be delayed?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, I think there's a possibility it might be delayed, but it's not a certainty. Because if that check is going to be cut by a regional law office far away from the snowstorm, then there shouldn't be a problem.

NORRIS: If the federal government is shut down, that means many of the buildings, the departments, the agencies here in Washington are not up and running. What about the business that's normally taken care of on Capitol Hill? What's going on there?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, the situation on Capitol Hill is mixed. I did some checking earlier today and found that there likely will be votes on the Senate floor but not on the House floor. So clearly there is business on Capitol Hill, legislative business that's not being taken care of today.

NORRIS: As we speak, this afternoon it looks like the House just canceled their business for the rest of the week.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, you know, what that means is all of that stuff will have to be pushed back, and those - that can result - without hearings, that means certain legislation will not get passed in the same timely manner it would have otherwise. And it's clearly going to have an impact on citizens eventually.

NORRIS: What if the government winds up being shut for the remainder of the week, five days in a row? What would that mean?

Mr. DAVIDSON: Well, one thing I think it would do, I think it would really encourage much more teleworking in the government. There is some of it now, but it's a relatively small percentage. I think these kinds of events really point to the need for the government to be more dispersed so that people can do more work from home and other locations and allow the government to continue running.

NORRIS: Joe Davidson, good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

Mr. DAVIDSON: Thank you.

NORRIS: Joe Davidson writes the Federal Diary column for The Washington Post.

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Storm Socks Midwest, Takes Aim At Mid-Atlantic

Rental cars buried deep in snow waited to be dug out at an auxiliary lot at Dulles International Airport, one of Washington, D.C.'s two main airports. The airports warned of more flight cancellations Tuesday. Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

Rental cars buried deep in snow waited to be dug out at an auxiliary lot at Dulles International Airport, one of Washington, D.C.'s two main airports. The airports warned of more flight cancellations Tuesday.

Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

A major snowstorm socked the Midwest and took square aim at the mid-Atlantic states Tuesday, where it was expected to intensify and dump more than a foot of snow on top of the nearly 3 feet already on the ground in many areas.

The latest storm hit the Midwest early, closing schools and greeting commuters with slick, slushy roads from Minneapolis and Chicago to Louisville, Ky. Hundreds of flights were canceled at Chicago's airports as the storm moved across Illinois, where up to a foot of snow was forecast.

Powerful winds and snow were expected to hit mid-Atlantic states by the evening and could leave as much as 20 inches of new snow in Washington and 18 inches near Philadelphia — a Northeast travel hub — by Thursday morning. New York City announced students would have a rare snow day Wednesday, only the third in six years.

For several major cities, the new storm should ensure that this year's snowfall surpasses anything recorded for a single winter since 1884, the first year national weather records were kept.

Native Midwesterner Laura Lorson offers Snow Advice For The Frantic Mid-Atlantic.

With hundreds of thousands of residents in the East still digging out from this weekend's massive storm and tens of thousands still without electricity, many people were losing patience as they girded for the next round of what has been dubbed "Snowmageddon" or "Snowpocalypse."

"Getting around is a pain right now as it is, so slushy and sloppy," said Meghan Garaghan, 28, as she stocked up at a supermarket in Philadelphia, which got 27 inches of snow. "I don't want to think about what it's going to be like with another foot and a half of snow dumped on top of this mess."

The storm that began Friday closed businesses and schools and shut down the government for two days running. Some 230,000 federal workers in Washington were told not to report to work Monday and Tuesday; the Senate met for only a few minutes Monday, and the House called off floor votes Tuesday.

Utility companies said the deep snow was hindering some crews trying to fix damaged power lines before the next storm hits.

"If that heavy, wet snow piles on, we're going to see more trees coming down, branches coming down," said Pepco spokesman Robert Dobkin.

Planes and trains out of many cities were still difficult to come by, while those traveling by automobile encountered roads still choked with snow and ice. Hundreds of flights were canceled at Chicago's O'Hare Airport. In Washington, there were long lines at the region's two main airports as carriers struggled to accommodate the huge backlog of people whose flights were scuttled over the weekend. Airports warned of more cancellations Tuesday.

The Metrorail subway system in the Washington area was running, but officials warned that the system could close early Tuesday in anticipation of the latest storm. In Baltimore, the city's subway was running regular service again and there was limited service on some bus routes. Commuter trains between New York and New Jersey were also running limited service.

Many local governments say this storm will put them over budget for the year on snow removal.

Safeway spokesman Greg Ten Eyck said road conditions were making it hard for many stores to restock groceries following the "epic" crowds before last week's storm.

Snow shovels, road salt, propane and other emergency items were still flying off the shelves at hardware stores across the region.

"I have to say, it's almost impossible to keep up with this," said Gordon Clement, owner of Clement Hardware in Severna Park, Md.

Clement said he had an inventory of 1,000 snow shovels on hand since 2006 that have all been snapped up since the weekend storm. Propane and kerosene heaters, fuel, wood logs and generators were also going faster than he could restock, he said.

"We're expecting a truck about noon," Clement said. "I expect people will be waiting in the parking lot for it to arrive."