Government Shutdown

Technology lends a twist to shutdown scenario

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Does checking email break the rules of furlough? (Stock image)

Today's technology could complicate a government shutdown in an unexpected way: the question of what constitutes voluntary service by furloughed employees.

By law, employees who are furloughed cannot perform their duties on a volunteer basis. The exact wording of the law is: "[A]n officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not accept voluntary services for either government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law except for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."

The increasing mobility of the federal workforce, however, raises a question of what may or may not constitute "volunteer services," as many employees can perform tasks such as checking email remotely. That wasn't possible during the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s.

As of midweek, officials at the Office of Personnel Management were reviewing legal requirements and shutdown plans. According to OPM guidelines, reiterating the law, federal agencies cannot accept volunteer services from an employee unless otherwise authorized by law.

The last time a government shutdown threatened, in 2011, the White House estimated that 800,000 of the approximately 2.1 million federal employees would be deemed non-exempt from furlough. Then, lawmakers reached an 11th-hour deal to avert a shutdown.

About the Author

Reid Davenport is an FCW editorial fellow. Connect with him on Twitter: @ReidDavenport.

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