OPM Failed to Issue Guidance for D.C. Federal Workers During Insurrection

Violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

Violent protesters, loyal to President Donald Trump, storm the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. John Minchillo/AP

There was substantial warning ahead of the arrival of the group that violently stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to overturn the results of the presidential election.

The agency responsible for closing or delaying the openings of federal facilities in the Washington, D.C., area was nearly silent in the days leading up to Wednesday’s insurrection by violent Trump supporters seeking to overturn the results of November’s presidential election.

In most circumstances, the Office of Personnel Management issues advisories to agencies in and around the nation’s capital on whether, or when, federal workers should report to work during anticipated events that could disrupt operations, be they large demonstrations or inclement weather like snow or hurricanes. For instance, last month, OPM issued a memorandum granting D.C.-area feds the day off on Inauguration Day.

In 2000, OPM was among half a dozen federal agencies to shutter their D.C. headquarters in advance of protests against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, when 90 protesters were arrested.

But this week, the leadership of the agency issued no public guidance about the influx of hundreds of Trump supporters intent on overturning the results of the presidential election, even as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser warned residents to stay away from groups of Proud Boys, a violent white supremacist group, and others who appear to be “looking for a fight.”

Instead, OPM Human Resources sent an email to employees around 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday entitled “Traffic Advisory,” informing them of a “First Amendment demonstration” and road closures associated with the event that culminated in the U.S. Capitol and congressional office buildings going on lockdown for hours. One woman was shot during the melee, and reportedly has died. The email encouraged supervisors to approve workplace flexibilities, but only to “help alleviate traffic congestion and minimize distraction to law enforcement and security officials.”

“On Tuesday January 5, 2021, through Thursday January 7, 2021, multiple First Amendment demonstrations are expected to occur in the District of Columbia,” the email stated. “In light of the event, the Metropolitan Police Department anticipates a significant impact to the vehicular traffic and commute times for employees in the Washington, D.C., area.”

Although many federal workers have been working from home for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some employees must still commute to work because their work is not portable. At OPM, that includes workers within Retirement Services, the division that processes the retirement requests and claims of employees across the federal government.

In a statement to Government Executive, an OPM spokesperson who declined to be named for the record shrugged off concerns that the agency’s inaction may have endangered employees’ safety.

“The federal government is open for business, and as is the case every day, continues to serve the American people,” the spokesperson said. “The health and safety of all employees and the public is the top priority. Agencies are providing guidance to their workforces on an agency-by-agency and location-by-location basis to keep them safe and healthy. The federal workforce is in maximum telework, as it has been since March, and essential employees are continuing to be able to do their jobs in the capital region.”