By Claudia Assis and Vaishali Honawar
WASHINGTON – With the chance to take liberal leave in the face of Hurricane Floyd, many state and federal government workers apparently got up and went to work anyway Thursday.
But predicting which offices were fully staffed and which were not was as difficult as predicting the path of the hurricane.
No exact figures on attendance were available from federal, state and county government officials Thursday. But workers at various offices said it ranged from an almost-regular workday in some offices, with just some of the staff missing, to a casual-dress day with kids in tow in other workplaces.
“The usual rules are more relaxed,” Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for Baltimore County, where workers were allowed to take liberal leave Thursday. She said most people were casually dressed and a few employees brought their children, since the county’s schools were closed.
At the federal Office of Personnel Management in Washington, it was much more formal.
“People are going through their daily chores as usual,” said OPM spokesman Mike Ornstein.
He said the federal government has no way of tracking how many people take advantage of liberal leave. But, looking around his own office, he estimated attendance was around 70 percent and he said other federal offices were working as usual.
Maryland officials said it would take two to three weeks to calculate how many of the state’s 70,000 employees took leave. But both state and federal officials insisted that there were enough workers on hand to serve the public as usual, with few exceptions.
“We had enough staff to continue operations,” said Mike Morrill, a spokesman for Gov. Parris Glendening. Morrill said that while state agencies and departments operated with minimum personnel, there were no problems reported.
Government officials also insisted that the liberal leave policy did not come at a cost to taxpayers.
“As workers took liberal leave, there was no cost to the government,” Ornstein said. The same was true for state and county workers on liberal leave.
That did not wash with Peter Sepp, vice president of communications at the National Taxpayers’ Union. He said that a shutdown of the federal government meant an overall loss in productivity and claimed that the last time a federal holiday was added, for Martin Luther King’s day, the federal government sustained a loss of $16 million.
“If taxpayers have to go to work, so should those who are getting paid by tax dollars,” said Sepp.
Many of them did go to work – along with their children.
Montgomery County employees were not granted leave Thursday but, since their children were out of school, some had to bring their children in to work.
“It was a pretty big inconvenience,” said Michael Bruen, a television producer for the county, who had his sons, Patrick, 10, and Christopher, 8, in tow.
At first, the boys were excited to spend the day with him, he said, but they were already bored in the afternoon. The children read Harry Potter books or watched TV and Bruen said he could get all his work done as usual.
Julie Pruett, in the county’s Management and Budget Office, was luckier. After learning on Wednesday that schools would be closed the next day, she made arrangements with her baby sitter for an earlier pickup.
“But there’s a lot of parents juggling with their kids,” Pruett said, adding that at her office some people did not show up.
For some government employees, a calmer Thursday was also an opportunity to catch up with work. Dave Bibo, an administrator with the Maryland Port Administration Harbor Development, decided to stay after his colleagues took up the state on its liberal leave policy and left around noon.
“I am trying to stay ahead of things,” he said by 2 p.m.