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Feds to Furloughed Employees: Checking Gov't Email During Shutdown a 'Criminal Offense'

7:01 AM, Oct 7, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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A notice posted on the website of the Small Business Administration (SBA) warns furloughed employees that it is a "criminal offense" to use federal resources during the furlough period, including accessing government email accounts. Although the notice is directed to SBA employees, presumably the directive is applicable to furloughed employees of all government agencies. The full notice reads as follows:

Please be advised, during the furlough period, non-excepted employees will no longer be permitted to utilize SBA email or other federal resources. Please know that use of federal resources while on furlough status is prohibited by law and is considered a criminal offense. Employees must NOT represent the agency in any formal or informal capacity.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a document on October 4, 2013, entitled "Guidance for Shutdown Furloughs" for all government employees. The guidance does not specifically address the email issue, and makes no mention of "criminal offenses." The closest the document comes to addressing the issue appears under a section entitled "Working during Furlough" (page 3):

1. May an employee volunteer to do his or her job on a nonpay basis during a shutdown furlough?  

A.  No.  Unless otherwise authorized by law, an agency may not accept the voluntary services of an employee.  (See 31 U.S.C. 1342.) [Link added]

During the lead up to a possible government shutdown in 2011, the SBA released guidance for its employees in preparation. The website FedSmith published the guidance that was sent in by one of its SBA readers, and it included almost verbatim the email warning that is currently on the SBA website.

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