The Cable

Lew: Furloughed employees have to work Monday, cannot use BlackBerries

If you are one of the 800,000 federal government employees facing a forced, unpaid furlough Friday due to the looming government shutdown, you might have been planning to head out of town for a nice, long weekend. Not so fast. You probably have to come in on Monday to put in a few hours of ...

Getty Images
Getty Images

If you are one of the 800,000 federal government employees facing a forced, unpaid furlough Friday due to the looming government shutdown, you might have been planning to head out of town for a nice, long weekend. Not so fast. You probably have to come in on Monday to put in a few hours of work to help shut down your own office.

In light of President Barack Obama‘s rejection of the House Republican’s bill that would keep the government running one more week, a federal government shutdown seems increasingly likely to begin on midnight Friday. Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew sent out the very latest official guidance for federal departments and agencies on how to deal with the potential looming shutdown on Thursday.

"Negotiations on the budget are continuing, and it remains possible that Congress will reach an agreement by midnight tomorrow on continued funding for the current fiscal year," wrote Lew. "Yet at this late hour, responsible management requires that we be prepared if there is a lapse in appropriations."

All federal agency managers should be telling their employees on Thursday if they are one of the lucky "essential" employees who gets to continue working (without pay) during a shutdown, Lew said. Executive branch managers should also be communicating today with unions, state and local governments, and contractors to let them know what their role would be in the event of a shutdown.

Everybody has to show up to work on Friday. By the end of the work day, every employee should know their status, one way or the other. OMB will send out more guidance Friday to let all federal employees know whether it looks like the shutdown will actually happen.

On Saturday, if there’s no deal, the shutdown plans go into effect. That means furloughed employees must cease doing any government work, even from home, and cannot use their government Blackberries, email accounts, phones, or laptops. 

But here’s the catch. Furloughed employees then have to come back to work on their next scheduled workday, typically Monday, April 11, for up to four hours, to implement "orderly shutdown" activities, which may include having employees "provide necessary notices and contact information, secure their files, complete time and attendance records, and otherwise make preparations to preserve their work."

Furloughed employees are also barred from using their Blackberries, phones, or computers over the weekend to avoid having to come back to work on Monday morning. And what if employees want to use their Blackberries or phones for non-work purposes? That’s not allowed. In fact, managers have the right to confiscate the devices to make sure, said Lew.

"Agencies have discretion to enforce these access restrictions in light of their own particular needs. Some may choose, for example, to include in orderly shutdown activities a requirement that furloughed employees turn in their Blackberries until they return to the office; others may determine that circumstances warrant a different approach."

Lew’s document also demands that most government websites be shutdown as well, because the money to keep them running just isn’t there.

Lew acknowledged that it may be more expensive to shut down certain things than to just keep them running. However, that won’t stop him from shutting down certain services.

"The determination of which services continue during an appropriations lapse is not affected by whether the costs of shutdown exceed the costs of maintaining services," he wrote.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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