Furloughed wait to be notified

Furloughed workers could be back on the job Thursday, but they might have to learn about it from the press.

Hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal employees would need to get back to the office when the shutdown ends, but many won’t receive an official notice from their boss.

“It is the employee’s responsibility to stay informed as to the status of agency funding during the hiatus” the National Endowment for the Humanities said in its shutdown plan filed with the White House. 

The agency will also alert workers through its emergency notification system.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which sets policies for government workers, has been telling federal employees to watch the news and keep track of its website to stay abreast of whether a funding deal has been reached.

That website has been largely static since the shutdown, but the office said in its shutdown plan that it would “be kept up to date with respect to the Government’s operating status.”

It would be difficult to try and reach workers through email or phone messages, according to the White House's Office of Management and Budget (OMB), because most employees are prohibited from using their government-issued devices, and many have had to hand them in.

In a September memo outlining how agencies should prepare for a possible government shutdown, OMB Director Sylvia Burwell wrote that they “should not rely on mobile devices or home access to work email for providing notices of when to return to work.”

The OPM added in its guidance that it expected a “significant cost associated with telephonic notification, and, based on our experience, we expect that notification through our website and the media would be sufficient.”

Other agencies, such as the Energy Department, have directed workers to check their agency websites for further information or call a toll-free number.

There is no single government-wide policy for when workers need to come back to the office. Many agencies, however, have told workers that they need to be back at their desks on the next regularly scheduled workday after congressional funding resumes.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has furloughed about 94 percent of its workforce, the agency’s human resources office is responsible for notifying employees to watch the news.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the head of the committee overseeing the EPA, said on Wednesday that she expected that agency’s chief would be eager to get back to work.

“Knowing Gina McCarthy the way I do, Administrator McCarthy, she will get up and running as fast as she can,” she said at a press conference.

The White House has hoped that a resolution would swiftly bring a sense of normalcy to government operations.

“It would be our hope and desire to return to normal working orders as quickly as possible and to get people back to work,” press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday.

Officials with numerous federal agencies did not immediately respond to questions about their plans to bring workers back after the shutdown ends. According to outgoing messages on their voicemails, many of those agency spokespeople were themselves furloughed.