Government Law

Email backlog waiting for furloughed workers; could they have been prosecuted for keeping up?

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Furloughed federal workers returning to work have to wade through their email inboxes, a formidable challenge for some.

Sophia Casey, a federal analyst, had more than 1,500 emails waiting for her, the Washington Post reports. Looking at them, she began to develop “a little headache over my right eyeball,” she told the newspaper.

Casey said she didn’t check the emails while away after being told it would be illegal to do so. Could she have been prosecuted for taking a peek?

Andrew Martin, chief librarian at the National Labor Relations Board, researched the question and found no precedent for prosecution. A prior Washington Post story noted that the Office of Personnel Management had declared that furloughed workers could not access their email.

The reason: “an obscure law known as the Antideficiency Act, which was passed over a hundred years ago and carries a penalty of fines or even imprisonment.” The law bars the government from incurring debts before the money is appropriated, CNBC reported earlier this month. The law was passed because some presidents, including Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, would incur obligations without money to pay for them.

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