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Government, Supermarkets Cope With Snowstorm

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Now to the man who's behind the decision to keep federal offices closed for a second day. John Berry is director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. His decisions today and yesterday followed conference calls with more than 100 local officials, police and transportation employees. Berry says shutting down the federal government is not something he takes lightly.

Mr. JOHN BERRY (Director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management): It is a careful balance between, first and foremost, public safety and our employees' safety, but second, also maintaining the important operations of our government. Last evening it was a pretty straightforward call because it was clear that aboveground Metro would not be operating, most of the commuter rail would not be operating, Metrobus service would be very spotty at best and the roads were projected to be extremely icy and secondary and residential roads unpassable for most of the day.

NORRIS: And when you made that decision, is it possible to put a dollar amount on how much the closure will cost taxpayers?

Mr. BERRY: Yes, we estimate, you know, it's an opportunity cost of - we put a rough ballpark on this of about $100 million, which is why we take this decision extremely seriously. Many employees like myself are working today, working from home, many of the projects that they're working on will still get done. They'll still get done on time. It just means they're going to have to work harder and faster. But this way they can - we can guarantee their safety.

NORRIS: Now, there are people who are considered to be essential staff members that are at work today. Who is considered essential?

Mr. BERRY: Each agency, Michele, determines that for their own unique circumstances. They range from air traffic controllers to police to prison guards. Obviously the National Weather Service maintains a core staff so that we can get accurate reports. In our case, security clearance investigations personnel are often deemed essential. That is predetermined so employees who are emergency know they have to come in.

NORRIS: John Berry is the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Mr. Berry, thank you very much.

Mr. BERRY: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: Plenty of other essential employees have been reporting to work. Doctors and nurses, of course, snowplow drivers and what about all those grocery store workers who've been keeping food on the shelves or at least trying to keep the food on the shelves. We're joined now by Greg Teneyck. He's a spokesperson for Safeway, and welcome to the program.

Mr. GREG TENEYCK (Spokesperson, Safeway): Thank you very much.

NORRIS: Now, we've heard lots of reports about empty shelves at the grocery store and very, very long lines. How were things at your stores this weekend?

Mr. TENEYCK: Well, we had a very busy Thursday and Friday as people anticipated this storm coming and tried to prepare for it. And then when the storm hit on Friday night and Saturday, then the challenge was getting the stores back open again and getting employees into the stores, getting store parking lots plowed. Some of our stores, actually, the employees planned in advance, they brought change of clothes and they spent the night in the store so that they would have them open on Saturday to accommodate our customers. The shelves were very hard hit, big gaping holes of products. And then the challenge was getting the trucks to the stores to replenish them.

NORRIS: Are there stores, Safeway stores that just simply weren't able to open?

Mr. TENEYCK: Yes, we did have a handful of stores that couldn't open even on Saturday, several of them because they were out of power. And I believe there were a couple of stores that because their parking lots couldn't get plowed or because employees couldn't make their way in, those stores didn't open. But by and large, most of our stores really were open and did a little bit of business.

NORRIS: On my way into work this morning, I noticed that there were a lot of trucks that were having a very, very difficult time trying to navigate the snow. Are you trying very hard to stock the shelves again before a second wave of snow hits the city?

Mr. TENEYCK: Yes, we've just now gotten the trucks out on the road. Sunday, a lot today, but yet people are going have to be patient because there are still a lot of items that are out of stock. The lines are already forming in our stores as people want to prepare for the next onslaught.

NORRIS: Mr. Teneyck, thank you very much.

Mr. TENEYCK: Thank you.

NORRIS: Greg Teneyck is a spokesperson for Safeway. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.