Call the Harrisburg office of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and a recorded message says this:
"Due to the government shutdown, Sen. Toomey's Harrisburg office is currently closed. In accordance with federal law, staffing and operations are very limited, and most constituent services have been suspended. We may not be able to reply to your voice mail until the shutdown is over."
But while Toomey and Senate colleague Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., are working with skeleton crews, the office of Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County, has been fully staffed.
Senators have furloughed staff at the advice of Senate lawyers, but the House has allowed its members to decide whether their staff is "essential."
"Each member's office is like its own small business," said Dan Weiser, communications director for the chief administrative officer of the House. "While there are certain guidelines they have to work by, most of the decisions are their own on how they operate that office."
For Perry, that meant keeping his staff of 15 full-time employees in his district and Washington, D.C. offices, manning the phones and assisting his legislative operation, Perry said Monday.
"In my mind, everyone here is essential or I wouldn't have hired them," he said. "I told people, 'I plan on being at work every day and you're part of this team.'"
Decision: Weiser said each member of the House is allowed to have no more than 18 full-time and four part-time staffers between all of their offices.
Preparing for the furlough, the Committee on House Administration issued representatives some guidance in a booklet, the "Legislative Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations," but each representative can decide how to interpret it, Weiser said.
A section regarding "essential" employees provides a broad definition for which
employees to retain, including those whose activities "entail or directly support members' performance of their constitutional responsibilities."
Representatives who wish to deem any of their staff nonessential and furlough them must fill out a U.S. House of Representatives Rotating Furlough Authorization Form, which Perry hasn't submitted because, he said, now is the most important time for his office to be open.
Since Oct. 1, Perry's office has fielded about 16,000 inquiries -- everything from immigration concerns to questions about veterans benefits, he said Monday.
"It would be tough for me as one person to keep up with 16,000 inquiries, whether those are calls, letters or emails," he said. "And a lot of those constituent issues are important and time sensitive."
So while apologetic "out-of-office" messages greet those who inquire at other offices, Perry said some of that chaos has been manufactured just so people can "play politics" with the shutdown.
That's the same reason open-air monuments are closed to the public, he said, and remaining fully staffed and open to the public is his office's way of "being mature adults."
His office will be able to "hit the ground running" when the shutdown ends because everyone had been there all along, he said.
"I didn't run for Congress to sit at home, and neither did my staff," he said. "The staff here wants to work and that's what we're going to do."
House: Weiser said his office has not been listing which representatives have furloughed staff, so it's not clear how many other representatives have kept their full staffs up and running; a person wanting that information would have to call the office of each of the 435 representatives, he said.
Representatives make $174,000 per year and can also exercise their own discretion about how much to pay staff as long as they stay within some guidelines, Weiser said.
But right now, Perry's staff -- like other government workers -- isn't being paid at all.
And it remains to be seen whether those on furlough will be paid after the shutdown ends.
The House passed a measure to issue pay to furloughed employees, but the Senate has yet to vote on the proposal.
Closed offices: Toomey spokesman Steve Kelly -- reached Monday just before he was legally obligated to turn off his phone and return to furlough -- said the senator has closed all but two offices, one in Washington, D.C., and a second in Allentown.
The full staff for Toomey is just over 50 employees, but all but eight or nine have been furloughed, Kelly said.
The phone at Casey's press office constantly says his staff is "in a meeting."
Casey spokeswoman April Mellody said his office has one staff member working in his Philadelphia office and one staff member working in his Harrisburg office to respond to "emergency constituent needs."
All other offices are closed, and there's a skeletal staff at the Washington, D.C., office, she said.
"These staffing decisions were made in light of statutory requirements and with the guidance of the Senate counsel," she wrote in an email. "We will continue to monitor the situation to ensure we are staffed appropriately to respond to emergency inquiries, keep constituents adequately informed and support the senator's constitutional responsibilities."
Mellody is still sending out press releases, but anyone who sends her an email is sent this auto-mailed response:
"Thank you for your e-mail. The federal government is currently shut down due to a lack of funding. This means that our offices are minimally staffed and phones will not be answered. ... I appreciate your patience during this time."
-- Reach Christina Kauff man at firstname.lastname@example.org.