With a budget deal in sight for Wednesday night, furloughed federal employees are instructed to check public broadcasts and the Internet for the big picture on when they might report to work. Their own agencies may vary in determining exact hours.
In guidance updated as of Oct. 11, the Office of Personnel Management instructed furloughed employees preparing to return to “follow their agency procedures, including any applicable collective bargaining agreements, which may include monitoring OPM’s website (www.opm.gov) and media outlets for notification that a continuing resolution or appropriation has been signed by the president.”
Agency managers, OPM wrote, “should apply a rule of reason in requiring employees to return to work as soon as possible, taking into account the disruption in the lives and routines of furloughed employees that a shutdown causes.”
The standard furlough notice the agency had put out earlier said, “You should monitor public broadcasts and the Internet. When a continuing resolution or an FY [state year] appropriation for [agency name] is approved, you will be expected to return to work on your next regular duty day.” The definition of “next day” might not be interpreted identically by all if the president signs the bill late at night Wednesday or early in the morning Thursday.
Many agencies in their internal shutdown instructions expressed sympathy for the employees’ likely confusion on precisely when furloughs end. Pentagon policy officials, for example, on Oct. 1 sent staffwide emails saying, “We will be proactive and initiate our telephone recall rosters once we are given instructions to resume work. Once an employee is aware that the government is reopened, he/she should return to work immediately barring any extenuating circumstances (e.g., the announcement of a budget resolution occurs so late in the day that it would be impractical for an employee to get to work before the end of the workday). At a minimum, employees will be expected to report for work the next business day.”
Employee unions have been carefully monitoring the timing of the shutdown’s end. Colleen Kelley, present of the National Treasury Employees Union, said on Wednesday that she was “pleased that it looks as though the shutdown will end; but I said in the beginning this shutdown was not only unnecessary, it is unfair to treat dedicated federal workers in this fashion and a disservice to the American people who depend on government services. According to reports, there is a provision in the bill to pay federal workers for the time they were furloughed. This is critical because federal employees have been out of work through no fault of their own and should not be made to suffer the loss of income and serious consequences that go with it.”
American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said he is “thrilled that a deal was reached to put our members back to work and restore the services American taxpayers count on. But make no mistake about it, this is not a happy day for federal employees. The Senate deal is simply a brief reprieve from the suffering federal employees and their families have endured for the past 16 days. We cannot accept another government shutdown in just a few short weeks; federal workers and the public they serve have suffered enough.”