Thanks to Congress and the White House a tiny chunk of the federal government will pioneer the two-day week, starting tomorrow.

Because of a budget problem that could mean furloughs later this month for 15,000 workers, the 310 employes of the Merit Systems Protection Board will go on half-time, at half pay, beginning Tuesday.

This week MSPB aides will work two days, next week they will work (and be paid) for 20 hours.

The Board, as well as portions of the Departments of Labor, Treasury, Education, Health and Human Services and Commerce, can't meet all its July payroll because Congress and the White House have been unable to agree on a special supplemental appropriation bill.

After two presidential vetoes, a disgusted House left town last week--to return July 12--without acting on a third version of the supplemental that passed the Senate.

Until a supplemental is approved, MSPB workers will be on half rations, and the Inspector General's Office of Health and Human Services says it will have to start furloughing July 30. Other agencies have alerted employes for furloughs of varying length, to start later this summer.

The American Federation of Government Employes is advising members around the nation they will get paid, even if they are furloughed, if they did not get 30-days notice AFGE says is required by the Civil Service Reform Act. It is counting on a May 7 decision by, of all places, the Merit Systems Protection Board. AFGE says the Board ruled that employes cannot be furloughed in non-emergency situations without proper notification.

The irony is that the MSPB, furloughing because it is broke, may be sued for back wages for time not worked by some of its workers citing MSPB's own decision.

Because so many feds are facing furloughs, here is a rundown of what happens to their job-related benefits when they are, in effect, locked out by the Congress.

Annual and Sick Leave: If you are placed on furlough for an entire (80 hour) pay period you do not accrue leave. If your furlough is for less than a full pay period, you earn leave at the same rate as when you were working full time.

Retirement: Office of Personnel Management says that during a "consecutive short-term furlough, retirement coverage continues without cost to you or your agency. During a discontinuous (off and on) short furlough coverage continues but employes and agencies must make contributions in proportion to earned salary.

Life Insurance: Enrollment continues without cost to the employe for up to 12 months of non-pay status. Employes who are furloughed part of a pay period must pay some or all of their premiums, depending on amount actually earned.

Health Insurance: OPM says that employes on discontinuous furlough or furlough of 30 days or less keep their enrollment without cost in some cases. In other instances, where earned salary is sufficient, the full premium cost must be paid by the worker.

Employes who are placed on what is called a continuous RIF furlough "lose their health benefits at the end of the pay period in which they are furlough. After that date there is a 31 day extension of coverage during which you may convert to nongroup coverage," OPM says.

Unemployment Benefits: Rules vary from state to state, but generally employes must be out of work for more than one week to collect unemployment benefits.

Short Furloughs: They are defined as covering a period "that does not exceed 30 consecutive calendar days or 22 discontinuous work days."

RIF Furloughs: This is a furlough of more than 30 consecutive calendar days or more than 22 discontinuous workdays.

Another Job: Generally speaking furloughed employes can take other jobs in government or the private sector so long as there is no conflict of interest with their regular federal job.

Clip And Save: You might want to hold on to these furlough facts for future reference. Your job may be safe now. But the way things are going you could be very interested in furloughs before the year is out.