Friday, November 2, 2012

AFGE Week in Review - Nov. 2, 2012

Nov. 2, 2012

Federal Employees Save Lives during Supersorm Sandy: Employees at the Coast Guard, FEMA and the National Hurricane Center are real-life super heroes to millions of Americans affected by Sandy that struck the East Coast earlier this week, killing at least 90 people in the U.S. and leaving millions without power. Five days before the storm hit, the National Hurricane Center correctly placed southern New Jersey near the center of the storm, a critical step in the government’s preparation efforts that undoubtedly saved lives. Even before the storm made landfall, the Coast Guard was already out in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina rescuing the sinking 180-foot HMS Bounty and most of the 16 people aboard. They continued their search and rescue efforts during and after the storm. FEMA has more than 1,500 employees on the ground working with state and local officials to provide shelters, foods, communications and logistical support as well as search and rescue. It has distributed 305,000 liters of water and more than 185,000 meals to affected states. The FEMA app helps people find open shelters along the East Coast.

Federal employees at other agencies also have been deployed to help with the preparation and relief efforts. Some 4,000 General Services Administration teleworking employees rushed first responder equipment, food and medicine to the Red Cross, federal agencies, state and local government during the storm. GSA also opened up the Brooklyn Courthouse to house some of the NYC emergency workers and is working to secure 100,000 square feet office space for FEMA. More than 500 Health and Human Services employees have been deployed to work with state officials. Teams of doctors and healthcare professionals are providing medical care in shelters in New York and New Jersey. Aircraft and crews from 12 active duty, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve bases were mobilized to help with the disaster relief efforts, including quickly getting power restoration equipment to New York. The Army Corps of Engineers has 500 people on the ground conducting infrastructure assessment, clearing debris, and helping restore power to critical infrastructure. The agency also has removed water in several subway stations in New York allowing several subway lines to resume partial operations. The Navy’s three helicopter carrier ships are anchored off the coast of Brooklyn ready to provide re-fueling and command and control of Defense helicopter support missions in the sea. The Energy Department is working with the power companies to support their repairs. The Federal Communications Commission is monitoring communications outages, including 9-1-1 call centers. The U.S. Forest Service sent more than 250 employees to affected states to assist in disaster response. Agriculture Department employees are helping rural electric and water utility companies assess outages and damage. They also are working with states to assess the need for emergency food assistance. The Social Security Administration is on hand helping people affected by the storm. Individuals who do not receive their Social Security checks as a result of the storm in most cases can go to any open Social Security office to request an immediate payment. The Housing and Urban Development Department is working with FEMA to help families locate rental units in their area. The agency also is granting foreclosure protection for Sandy victims with Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured home mortgages. The Transportation Department is making immediately available $13 million in quick-release emergency funds, the first installment of the Federal Highway Administration funds, to New York and Rhode Island to repair roads, bridges and tunnels. 

One-Third of D.C. Area Feds Telework during Sandy: According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), about one third of 300,000 federal employees in the Washington, D.C. area got things done from home when government offices closed Monday and Tuesday due to the storm. The number is a lot higher than the 8 percent of federal employees who telework during normal business hours. OPM said the primary barrier to telework is management resistance.

“It is very telling that the federal government appears to have the capacity and capability to go from 8 percent of employees teleworking to approximately 33 percent when the continuity-of-operations plan is put in place,” Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia told reporters. He’s a sponsor of the Telework Enhancement Act, which was signed into law in 2010 to facilitate telework in the federal government. “This indicates that one of the major barriers to more robust teleworking by a significant segment of federal employees is management related and not due to technology constraints. We still have a mindset among some federal managers that ‘if I can’t see you, you must not be working.’ ”

Sandy Won’t Disrupt Federal Payroll Operations: The National Finance Center which processes paychecks for much of the federal workforce said Sandy is not disrupting its payroll operations and feds should receive their paychecks by electronic transfers by Monday. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service also said the hurricane has not disrupted its operations. DFAS administers payroll for the departments of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Broadcasting Board of Governors and the Executive Office of the President.

Federal Government to Foot the Bill for Damage by Superstorm Sandy: It’s the federal government, not private insurers, that will pick up a substantial share of the tab estimated at billions of dollars in damage caused by Sandy. As standard homeowners’ policies provide no compensation for flood damage, a substantial portion of the bill will be paid for by the federal emergency financial aid typically extended to homeowners and small businesses with no adequate insurance. This is on top of the cost of repairing infrastructure such as roads, subways, bridges and piers.
Private insurers have refused to cover flooding as it’s too costly and unpredictable. In order to fill the void, Congress in 1968 passed legislation creating the National Flood Insurance Program, operated by FEMA, to provide flood insurance to homeowners and businesses. The government-backed flood insurance is sold through more than 100 private insurance companies that participate in the national flood insurance program. According to the National Association of Realtors, about 5.5 million property owners are covered under this program.

But there are concerns that the cash-strapped program may not have enough funding to cover damages caused by Sandy. FEMA has borrowed $18 billion from the Treasury Department to pay for claims over the years, including $16 billion for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and $1.3 billion for Hurricane Irene in 2011. Experts have estimated that economic losses by Sandy could reach $50 billion. As the debt limit is $20.8 billion, FEMA, is likely to ask Congress for more resources for its long-term recovery efforts, even though Congress has appropriated $7.1 billion for fiscal 2013 and FEMA has more than $1 billion left over in the disaster relief fund from last year.

“This is not going to be a short-term situation,” New York Gov.Andrew Cuomo told reporters. “This is going to be a long-term recovery and reconstruction effort, and that’s how we’re going to have to think about it.  Cuomo said he expected the federal government to reimburse the state for the “overwhelming majority” of state costs as the recovery effort is going to be “very, very expensive.”

Lawmakers often put too little money into disaster relief funds. Efforts to restore FEMA funding after Hurricane Irene depleted its coffers have met with resistance from some members of Congress who demanded that new disaster aid be offset with spending cuts elsewhere. Unless the automatic across the board cuts are avoided, the agency will face a $580 million in cuts to its disaster relief funds with an additional $300 million in cuts to state and local programs.

Resource Information for Those Affected by Hurricane: If you are affected by the hurricane and need help, check out the following links:

State By State Guide

Washington Area Updates

Smartphone Apps

Google Maps


Disaster Assistance

Office of Personnel Management Operating Status

OPM Handbook on Pay and Leave During Emergencies


FEEA Stands Ready to Assist Feds Affected by Hurricane Sandy: With Hurricane Sandy already pummeling the East Coast with significant wind and rain, the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund (FEEA) stands ready to assist civilian federal and postal employees impacted by the storm. Disaster grants of up to $500 will be available to employees in hard-hit areas. Employees in need of help can download a disaster relief application at or call FEEA at 1-800-323-4140 for more information. Phone lines may be very busy due to widespread damage and the sheer number of federal employees likely to be affected by the storm. Callers are asked to be patient and leave a message if prompted to do so. FEEA will have to prioritize assistance to those with the most serious damage and hardships until additional donations are received.

FEEA recently helped almost 600 feds in the Gulf Coast area with over $80,000 in disaster grants and no-interest loans following Hurricane Isaac, depleting its funds significantly. Donations to FEEA’s Natural Disaster Fund are urgently needed to ensure all who qualify for assistance in the wake of this disaster will receive it. Donations may be made via credit card on FEEA’s web site Donations via check made out to “FEEA” may be sent to: FEEA Headquarters, 3333 S. Wadsworth Blvd., Suite 300, Lakewood, CO 80227.

This Week’s Blog: Huffington Post senior writer Tom Zeller hopes Hurricane Sandy helps re-focus attention to the global warming issue:

“As it is, the science suggests that human-driven global warming is creating an environment capable of amplifying the energy of certain storms, by providing warmer ocean temperatures, say, or moister air, and other ingredients that hurricanes need to thrive. Sea levels, too, are now more than 7 inches higher than they were at the dawn of the 20th century -- a phenomenon that most scientists tie directly to climate change. This raises the odds that any storm, whatever its origin, will be able to push the ocean up over sea walls that once seemed adequate.”

Hot on YouTube: Watch the Coast Guard’s dramatic rescue of 14 people from life rafts in the Atlantic Ocean, about 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, North Carolina, before Hurricane Sandy made landfall.

This Week in Labor History: Oct. 29, 1929 - Wall Street crashes -- "Black Tuesday" -- throwing the world's economy into a years-long crisis including an unemployment rate in the U.S. that by 1933 hit nearly 25 percent.

Inside Government: Tune in now to AFGE’s “Inside Government” for more on the importance of the Hispanic vote in the upcoming elections. The show, which originally aired on Friday, Oct. 26, is now available on demand. Hispanic affairs expert Juan Sepúlveda discussed efforts to connect with Hispanic voters and understand their top concerns.  But first, newly-elected AFGE National Secretary-Treasurer Eugene Hudson Jr. discussed his top goals and the challenges and rewards of being a federal employee. Rep. Peter Welch (Vt.) then provided a closer look at the Department of Defense budget and discussed infrastructure investment as a way to revive the middle class. Lastly, AFGE Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Local 2282 President Greg Brooks discussed worker safety concerns at FAA and initiatives to increase union membership.

Listen LIVE on Fridays at 10 a.m. on 1500 AM WFED in the D.C. area or online at

Quote of the Week:

Michael “Heckavajob” Brown, former PresidentGeorge W. Bush’s FEMA director who was criticized for his slow reaction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, on Monday criticized the president for responding too quickly to Hurricane Sandy:

“[The president’s press conference with FEMA officials on Sunday is] premature [when] the brunt of the storm won't happen until later this afternoon.”

American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO 80 F Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001 | Tel. (202) 737-8700 | Fax (202) 639-6492

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