Congressional phones, emails go dark because of furloughed staffers

Passwords composed of a series of numbers are some of the easiest to steal. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON – When national events spiral out of control, it is not uncommon for people to reach out to their member of Congress. But good luck with that during the government shutdown.

“You have reached the Roanoke regional office of Sen. Tim Kaine. Due to a temporary government shutdown, our office is closed,” says the recorded telephone message on a district office for Kaine, D-Va.

Same story on the other side of the Potomac River.

“Despite Sen. Mikulski’s repeated efforts to keep government open, this office, along with those of other members of Congress, is shut down,” says the phone message at the Annapolis office of Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.

A smattering of other recorded messages from the district offices of area senators and representatives sounded like this:

“We will return your call when the situation is resolved.”

“You are welcome to leave a message, however, we may not be able to retrieve or respond to your message.”

“This office is closed except for emergencies.”

The phones go unanswered and some lawmakers’ websites aren’t operating normally. Other offices are not answering email or caution that the response will be slow.

Still, the situation varies. Calls to the Prince George’s County and Anne Arundel County offices of Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., were promptly answered.

Staffers in both the Senate and House have been furloughed, though no office on Capitol Hill seems to know exactly how many. Congressional staffers say some offices have been rotating which employees are on furlough — sending some home last week, calling them back this week and putting others on furlough.

On the House side, the Committee on House Administration has issued a 17-page booklet to members, offering guidelines on operations during the government shutdown.

The booklet tells members it is up to each member’s office and committee to decide which employee is considered essential or nonessential. But the member must consider who directly supports the “member’s constitutional responsibilities,” “the safe-guarding of human life” and “the activities that entail the protection of property.”

On the Senate side of the Capitol, the Rules and Administration Committee would be responsible for providing senators guidance with furloughs.

“Hello, you have reached the Committee on Rules and Administration. The office is temporary closed due to a lack of appropriations. Unfortunately we will not be able to check messages until the committee reopens,” says the somewhat familiar-sounding message.

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