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October 1, 2013

Work-from-home links go dark for furloughed employees during shutdown

WASHINGTON — Government workers may not only be physically cut off from their offices in the event of a federal shutdown — their digital ties could be severed, too.

According to a memo from the Office of Management and Budget issued last week, furloughed employees are not allowed to do any work, including "via mobile devices or remote computer connections."

That means no checking email. No working remotely. And no BlackBerrys or other government-issued smartphones.

The memo states that it's up to each agency to determine how to enforce the digital restrictions. But furloughed employees will have to turn in their smartphones during a four- hour shift Tuesday to put their affairs in order and turn in the phones, according to Washington Post reporter Lisa Rein.

Agencies can't even rely on sending messages about when workers can get back on the job via mobile devices or "home access to work email," the memo says.

The OMB cites the Anti-Deficiency Act — the same act that will keep workers out of their physical offices — for the digital shutdown. As with other government work, there are some exceptions to which positions will still be allowed to use virtual space, such as work that protects lives or vital property.

Government workers have already faced the prospect of turning in their PDAs, and The Post's Karen Tumulty reported in 2011 that workers were anticipating going through withdrawal symptoms such as hearing phantom rings and vibrations from empty pockets. That dependence has only grown in the past two years, and a majority of American smartphone users keep their phones on or near them at least 22 hours a day, according to an 2012 study from the research firm IDC.

The shutdown could also affect government websites, according to the memo, because workers will not be able to update those online pages during a shutdown. There will be exceptions on an agency-by-agency basis. Essential systems can stay up, as can back-end technical systems and other systems needed to maintain the functionality and security of those systems. Also, any site that does not require someone to maintain it can remain online, the memo said.

Agencies can also extend the deadlines for any paperwork or applications due to the government if such submissions are put on hold during a shutdown.

While websites are shut down, the memo suggests, agencies should put a standard notice on their landing pages letting visitors know that the information on the websites may not be up to date.

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