On Shutdown Day, Employees Must Still Show Up

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew Kostas Tsironis/AP

Though federal employees are doubtless following the unfolding congressional drama that might close the government on Tuesday, the law requires them to report for duty even though it may be clear after midnight Monday that a lapse in appropriations had kicked in.

“They have to show up to shut down, to close things down that day,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. “This is one of the insane aspects of this, not only in the intense amount of time it takes to prepare, but then they have to lock everything down that hadn’t been deemed essential. It not only absorbs a fair amount of energy, it then must start it up again. The waste involved is extraordinary.”

Agency-by-agency guidance on shutdown procedures has been assembled by the Office of Management and Budget, which would be required to issue the shutdown directive soon after midnight if Congress fails to enact an extension of current appropriations.

Such a directive was anticipated in a memorandum by then-Budget Director Jack Lew on the eve of the just-averted shutdown in April 2011.

“An agency shall have its non-excepted employees perform -- for up to a half-day (e.g., up to four hours) --such ‘orderly shutdown’ activities as are needed for the agency's implementation of its contingency plan (e.g., turning in equipment if required),” Lew wrote. “Non-excepted employees who are scheduled to telework on their next scheduled work day may perform these shutdown activities from their telework location, if an existing telework agreement is in place. In addition, agencies at their discretion may allow other employees to conduct shutdown activities from a remote location, even without an existing telework agreement, if the nature of the employees’ shutdown activities are de minimis (i.e., can be accomplished in approximately 15 minutes).”

Such activities would involve receiving an electronic furlough notice and setting e-mail and voice mail responses to reflect an employee’s furlough status, Lew wrote.

The Office of Personnel Management this month issued its own furlough guidance, noting that in such situations, while written notice (including via email) is preferable, “any reasonable notice (e.g., telephonic, oral, personal email, or by mail promptly after the furlough) is permissible.”

A sample notice provided by the agency included language noting that the usual 30-day advance notice was not possible. OPM said notices must factor in collective bargaining agreements and include descriptions of appeal and grievance rights. They also should explain that those employees deemed excepted from furloughs were classified as such under 1981 OMB legal guidance.

For Senior Executive Service members, notices should provide “the reason for the furlough; the expected duration of the furlough and the effective dates; the basis for selecting the appointee when some but not all SES appointees in a given organizational unit are being furloughed; [and] the location where the appointee may inspect the regulations and records pertinent to the action.”

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