If Feds Go Home For a Shutdown, Do Their Phones Go With Them?


A handful of potentially impacted agencies have updated their guidance since the last shutdown.

Just because the government shuts down does not necessarily prohibit federal employees from using their government-issued devices for personal matters. But some agencies do require employees to turn in devices, turn them off or put other additional restrictions on their use during a shutdown.  

The Office of Management and Budget guidance released last year allows agencies to set their own guidance for mobile devices as long as they do not rely on the devices to call employees back to work. For some agencies, furloughed employees may have to turn in devices until they return to work.

As the White House and Congress work through the current stalemate, we looked at the device requirements for the agencies whose funding might cut out Friday at midnight. As always, be sure to check with your manager, as specific requirements can differ.

Here’s what we found:

Agriculture Department (Last updated December 2017)

The guidance provided by the Agriculture secretary does not require employees to turn in their devices. However, the guidance issued in December 2017 prohibits feds from using their government-issued devices “for communications during shutdown for official business other than for the purposes of shutdown or as required by the secretary.”

Commerce Department (Last updated in 2015)

Employees of the vast Commerce Department will likely be able to hang on to their government devices through a shutdown. The list of excepted IT requirements and contracts specifically lists “mobile devices (iPhones, iPads)” and “desktops/laptops” as immune to the shutdown.

Outside of specific program or office requirements, Commerce employees can take their devices home during a shutdown.

Homeland Security Department (Last updated March 2018)

Homeland employees should hang on to their government-issued devices but only to check on the status of the shutdown. The contingency plan explicitly states that any other use could be punishable by law.

From the guidance [emphasis added]:

During a hiatus, non-exempt personnel may continue to retain and monitor their DHS issued electronic devices for status updates and emergency notifications from their supervisors or other management officials; however, employees are prohibited from using this equipment for any other purposes (e.g., employees may only use their DHS electronic devices for one-way communication to monitor the status of the furlough, which is strictly an option … Failure to follow this policy may result in a violation of law, specifically the ADA, which has a criminal component, and may result in severe penalties.

Exempt employees can continue to use their government-issued devices to do their jobs, though some might have to use temporary equipment—like desktop computers—if office locations are consolidated.

Housing and Urban Development Department (Last updated in January 2018)

The government’s housing assistance agency prohibits the use of government-owned devices in no uncertain terms.

“When in a furlough status, you are prohibited from using HUD provided devices (such as laptops, iPads, cell phones) during the furlough,” the guidance states. Employees also cannot connect to HUD’s remote apps, such as agency email or HUDmobile.

Interior Department (Last updated in December 2017)

Interior’s guidance leaves it up to the various component leaders to decide whether to collect devices or not.

“Some may choose, for example, to include in orderly shutdown activities a requirement that furloughed employees turn in their Blackberries until they return to the office; others may determine that circumstances warrant a different approach,” according to the contingency plan.

That said, the guidance warns managers that employees should not need to rely on personal devices to access work email to find out whether the shutdown is over.

State Department (Last updated in March 2018)

State Department employees will be able to hang on to their devices during a shutdown but have been instructed to turn them off. The guidance also states that excepted personnel working through a shutdown should not be communicating with non-excepted employees on furlough.