Today, Washington scrambles to come up with some sort of budget compromise in order to avoid the imminent shutdown of the government. While President Obama, Harry Reid and Speaker Boehner attempt to work out some sort of deal, many government employees lower on the totem pole worry that a shutdown could separate them from their information lifelines - their BlackBerrys.
It's not news that the majority of Washington employees use BlackBerrys as their primary form of data communication. While many have personal devices of other platforms, they conduct most of their business on their government-issued BlackBerrys. If no deal is reached and the government does in fact shut down tonight at midnight, congressional staffers might have to turn over their devices before they exit Washington.
According to an old provision, government workers deemed "non-essential" are unable to work during a furlough, even if they volunteer. If the government shuts down, many congressional staffers will find themselves on such furloughs. This means they would be unable to use their devices for calls, texts and checking their official emails. This proposition is currently freaking out the staffers. From the Washington Post:
My wife and kids would probably like it for a couple of days," said Kevin Bishop, communications director for Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), whose mobile device has made it possible for him to do his job from the senator's Greenville office. "I'm not sure I could handle it, though. It's basically a part of who you are, from the moment you wake up in the morning to the moment you go to bed at night."
The big question is how is this rule going to be enforced? There is little way to monitor the way a staffer checks his communications from home. The Post reports that a senate committee staffer thinks the rule is going to involve "reading but not writing" on the devices. I guess they could always just drop them in a basket on the way out.
It seems as though congressional staffers are as addicted as teenagers to their mobile devices. They worry that time-sensitive material will not be attended to and they fear the backup of messages that will come pouring down once their access is restored.
Ben Smith at Politico offers an interesting take on the media shutdown. He thinks that it might show the public which legislators are the most active on Twitter and Facebook - for real. Their staffers wouldn't be allowed to post on their behalf, so we might get to figure out who among the congresspeople are truly in tune with the technology and who have been passing it on for years.