Federal agencies considering short-term furloughs to get out of a budget crunch are studying an updated how-to-do-it package from the Office of Personnel Management.

OPM officials caution that nothing sinister should be read into the fact that they have put out the fact sheet for agency heads and personnel chiefs. But the fact that OPM did it means that many government offices, under White House orders to cut spending 12 percent (subject to congressional approval), are seriously studying leave-without-pay options to save money and avoid or minimize RIFs (reductions in force) in the near future.

The OPM guidelines advise officials that, except in emergency situations, they must give employes 30 days' notice before a furlough is to begin. Contracts with unions in some agencies require an even longer notification period.

Short-term furloughs are defined as those of 30 calendar days if the layoffs are for 30 consecutive days, or 22 work days if the furloughs are to be staggered -- that is, one or two days a week for a period of several weeks.

OPM guidelines urge agencies to advise employes of specific furlough days whenever possible, and to tell them why they are being furloughed whether the LWOP situations are applied to specific workers or to an entire office, unit or agency.

Agencies can furlough people anytime if there is no work to be done, no money to pay people or for acts of God (floods, tornadoes or other disasters that may put a building under water, flatten it or otherwise make it difficult to operate).

This is what happens to your benefits if you are hit with a furlough:

Unemployment Compensation: You can get it during a furlough if rules in your state permit.

Retirement: Furlough time counts toward retirement up to a maximum of six months. If your furlough runs over six months the maximum service credit you can earn will be six months. Employes on furlough do not have to make contributions to the retirement system for the furlough period.

Workers furloughed for only part of a pay period make retirement contributions based on salary received.

Life Insurance: Enrollment continues without cost to the employe for both basic and optional life insurance for continuous furlough time. On a "discontinuous furlough" enrollment continues but the employe and the agency pay premiums if the salary during the pay period is sufficient to cover deductions.

Health Benefits: Enrollment continues without cost during a continuous furlough. But employes on discontinuous furlough pay their share of premiums if salary during the pay period is sufficient to cover them.

Travel: If you are in a travel status when a furlough hits your agency it is supposed to bring you home before it furloughs you.

Retirement and Annual Leave credit continues up to six months in the aggregate in any calendar year.

Other Jobs: You may take a temporary job, pumping gas, selling apples or insurance, or with another federal agency so long as there is no conflict with your primary job.