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Furloughed feds cannot telework or use BlackBerrys

For congressional employees, a government shutdown will mean an information blackout as well.

Capitol Hill staffers won't be allowed to use government-issued BlackBerrys, laptops or cellphones, the Committee on House Administration said in 10 pages of guidance issued as Republicans and Democrats remain deadlocked over how much to cut the 2011 federal budget.

Furloughed congressional staffers cannot perform official duties, or even volunteer to work for free. That means no phone calls and no email messages, according to the guidance.

"To ensure compliance with this rule, employing offices may require furloughed employees to turn in their BlackBerrys, laptops and cellphones and should require furloughed employees to set an 'out of office' message on their email accounts," stated the guidance signed by Rep. Daniel Lundgren, R-Calif.

Guidance for executive branch workers remains less clear.

Worried workers in a Defense Department office in Crystal City, Va., kept their ears tuned to the office television Thursday for the latest news about the looming shutdown. They've all heard about a possible BlackBerry ban, said a communications specialist in the office, but "so far, we really haven't been briefed on it yet."

His Defense Department bosses still are deciding who's essential and will be required to work in the event of a shutdown, and who's not. And "they're still trying to put together guidance on BlackBerry," he said.

The Office of Personnel Management has been clear about some shutdown rules for executive branch workers: Government employees cannot work, or even volunteer to do unpaid work for the government, during a shutdown -- unless they qualify as "excepted."

Those are essential personnel, who must work, but won't be paid until Congress passes a budget and the president signs it.

Political appointees also are prohibited from volunteering to work, said Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for management in the White House Office of Management and Budget. On Thursday Zients told reporters, "Those that are furloughed need to power down their BlackBerrys and not do any work."

"Many websites are going to be down," he said, adding that many more would have only limited operability.

Also on Thursday, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn issued a message to civilian employees telling them if they are furloughed, they "may not telework." Lynn did not say whether BlackBerrys or laptops would be confiscated. He referred workers to an Office of Personnel Management website, which presumably will remain operable during a shutdown.

If there's a shutdown, it won't occur until midnight Friday, hours after most government workers have gone home. Some reports have said government employees will be told to go to work Monday morning to turn in BlackBerrys, laptop computers and other government-issued communications equipment to ensure they can't work from home.

"I doubt people are going to come to work Monday, if they're not getting paid, just to turn in their BlackBerrys," the communications specialist said.

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