We're a little short on normal government news here today because the government worked only a half-day yesterday.

Rush hour came early because Uncle Sam ran out of money. Since it is illegal to work free for the government, about half the area's feds -- those whose agency budgets have not been approved -- were sent home starting about 1 p.m. Unless Congress gets its act together, the furlough could continue today. Check the news this morning before you leave home.

The silly and pointless shutdown, which is getting to be a regular October event here, came about because Congress failed to approve a stopgap money bill, called the continuing resolution. It is required to restart agencies that technically ran out of money Monday, the first day of the new fiscal year.

Nonessential employes in budgetless agencies were sent home. Workers deemed essential (those involved in health, safety and national security or defense) were supposed to stay at their posts, as were employes in agencies with approved budgets.

Unless Congress or the government does something about it, yesterday's half-day furlough will be without pay. Last year, when feds got caught in a similar situation, the government found a way to avoid docking workers. Whether that will happen again this year remains to be seen. You will get paid if you were on previously approved vacation, but you can't take a vacation day after the fact to get paid.

Some furlough fallout:

*Yesterday's early release seems to have been confined to the Washington area. A call to federal friends in Philadelphia, Nashville and Tampa found them all on the job. The Nashville contact said he had heard they might be released at 1:30 p.m., Central Daylight Time. The Tampa man said he had heard about "some foolishness up north," but nothing specific. The Philadelphia story was work as usual.

*A Pentagon worker said her section got the word to bail out at 3 p.m. "We heard from outside callers that the rest of the government was letting out, but they didn't tell us until much later," she said.

*A purchasing agent at the National Institutes of Health said she and a secretary were told by several bosses that they were "essential" and had to stay on the job. Then the bosses turned around and left early.

*Three federal folks called their agency headquarters before returning from lunch and were told by a very high-ranking official -- who happened to be the only one around to answer the phone -- that they should head for home.