Feds could be fined for working during a shutdown

Thursday - 3/3/2011, 10:08am EST

Anthony Scardino, CFO, USPTO

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By Suzanne Kubota
Senior Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio.com

According to the Antideficiency Act, if a furloughed federal employee works during a shutdown, they could be in a heap of trouble.

Granted, that's not the formal language for it. That looks more like this:

An officer or employee who violates 31 U.S.C. § 1341(a) (obligate/expend in excess or advance of appropriation), section 1342 (voluntary services prohibition), or section 1517(a) (obligate/expend in excess of an apportionment or administrative subdivision as specified in an agency's regulation) "shall be subject to appropriate administrative discipline including, when circumstances warrant, suspension from duty without pay or removal from office." 31 U.S.C. §§ 1349(a), 1518.

In addition, an officer or employee who "knowingly and willfully" violates any of the three provisions cited above "shall be fined not more than $5,000, imprisoned for not more than 2 years, or both." 31 U.S.C. §§ 1350, 1519.

"In fact," said Tony Scardino, Chief Financial Officer at the Patent and Trademark Office, "our head of IT, our chief information officer was telling us it's actually illegal for you to check your BlackBerry if you're on a government shutdown. There's a $5,000 dollar sanction, up to two years in prison... I mean none of that's going to happen, but the point is it's literally on the books that says it's illegal for you to work if you're in a government shutdown."

Scardino told Federal News Radio that's just one of the many topics being discussed in the top offices around the federal government during planning for a possible shutdown.

"So all these shutdown plans, even though OMB requires that you update them every year, they were pretty dusty. So every agency's had to - I mean every agency. I've talked to a lot of folks. Everybody's been going through this emergency planning of 'what would we do if we had to shut down the government?' So that's kind of a wasted effort in the sense that you're not managing your day to day operations."

Scardino noted the daily grind isn't daily right now, but getting through the day is even more of a challenge.

"You also have to realize under continuing resolutions and the threat of a shutdown, morale is really low across the federal government. I can't tell you how many hundreds and thousands of hours have been, in one way, wasted for preparing for the shutdown. In one sense it's not wasted in that it could happen, so you've got to be prepared."

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