Can I Use My Government Smartphone During a Shutdown?

Maria Savenko/

Just because government goes dark during a shutdown doesn’t mean your government devices have to, too.

Federal employees often reap the benefits of government’s embrace of technology: getting access to smartphones and laptops meant for work that can also be used–sparingly–for personal matters.

But if the government goes dark during a shutdown, can employees use their government-issued devices for non-government activities?

For instance, employees might use their agency-issued laptops to check personal email or their child’s soccer schedule. Or, if employees don’t own a smartphone, they might use the GPS on their government phone to map a driving route.

These types of activities fall under incidental use, which is generally allowable under statute.

“Limited personal use of the government office equipment by employees during non-work time is considered to be an ‘authorized use’ of government property,” according to guidance issued by the General Services Administration.

Guidance from the Homeland Security Department clarifies further:

Executive branch employees are specifically prohibited from using government office equipment to maintain or support a personal private business. Examples of this prohibition include employees using a government computer and internet connection to run a travel business or investment service. […] Employees may, however, make limited use under this policy of government office equipment to check their Thrift Savings Plan or other personal investments, or to seek employment, or communicate with a volunteer charity organization.

Those allowed uses would extend to a shutdown, as well, so long as feds aren’t doing any work.

While agency email service might be offline during a shutdown, feds could crack open a work laptop to check personal email or look up a movie time on a government smartphone without running afoul of the Antideficiency Act–the law that restricts federal employees from doing any government work during a shutdown.

However, feds using their government devices as their primary personal devices should be wary of crossing the line from incidental use to inappropriate use.

So, if a shutdown occurs, don’t worry about using that laptop you usually take home. But maybe don’t spend the shutdown playing online poker.