Agencies told to begin furlough notifications

Federal employees can expect to begin receiving furlough notices immediately, according to a memo to agency officials released on Thursday by the Office of Management and Budget.

Agency leadership should tell employees if they will be considered "exempt" and allowed to continue working, or if they will be furloughed if the existing temporary budget law expires at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, the memo from OMB Director Jacob "Jack" Lew said.

Agencies are encouraged to issue furlough notices electronically.

Lew said agencies must complete the notification process no later than the close of business on Friday, which will be considered a "normal workday" for employees.

"We know that the current uncertainty and threat of a shutdown is a tremendous burden on federal employees and therefore, earlier this week, we encouraged agencies to reach out to all employees regarding the possible lapse in appropriations," he wrote.

Agencies also are encouraged to immediately reach out to stakeholders, such as federal labor unions, state, local and tribal governments, grantees, contractors, and congressional committees to discuss their contingency planning, he wrote.

"We're taking these steps because responsible management demands it," OMB Deputy Director Jeffrey Zients said during a White House press briefing. "We still hope that we do not have to execute the plans, but we are prepared to implement if necessary." If funding lapses, then federal workers, including those who are furloughed, will be allowed to perform up to four hours of work on their next scheduled workday to conduct orderly shutdown activities.

"Ordinarily, furloughed employees should take no more than three or four hours to provide necessary notices and contact information, secure their files, complete time and attendance records, and otherwise make preparations to preserve their work," Lew wrote.

Nonexempted employees who are scheduled to telework on their next scheduled workday will be allowed to perform these shutdown activities from their telework location. Agencies also can allow other nonexempt employees to conduct these shutdown activities from a remote location if those tasks can be done quickly -- in an estimated 15 minutes -- even if they were not scheduled to telecommute. Such activities would include receiving and acknowledging receipt of an electronic furlough notice, and updating voicemail and email responses to reflect their current work status, the memo stated.

Agencies will have the discretion to decide if furloughed employees must turn in their work-issued BlackBerrys, cellphones or laptops, or if they simply should be instructed to cease to use the devices during a shutdown.

"Orderly shutdown procedures should not rely on mobile devices or home access to work email for providing notices of when to return to work," the memo said. "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 BlackBerrys until they return to the office; others may determine that circumstances warrant a different approach."

Agencies also will have some leeway in dealing with employees on temporary duty assignments away from their normal duty stations. Those workers are encouraged, OMB said, to make arrangements to return home sooner than anticipated "wherever reasonable and practicable. However, agencies should make a determination of reasonableness and practicality based on the length of the assignment and the time required for return travel, compared to the anticipated length of the lapse, so as to minimize the burdens of doing so."

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