– By Domani Spero
Shortly before midnight, OPM released a statement ordering federal agencies to execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations. During the DPB the day before the shutdown, the State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki stated that State/USAID operation can be “sustained” for a limited duration in the event of a shutdown:
[R]egardless of the challenges a shutdown would create, we will continue to operate to advance national interests and to protect health and safety of American citizens and those living abroad.
If appropriations are not continued, so if the government shuts down, initially Department of State and USAID activities can be sustained on a limited basis for a short period of time. I don’t have the specific number of days because it’s dependent on our programs and spending, so I can’t give you the prediction of the number of days.
Ms. Psaki asked specifically about “any immediate kind of furloughs” said: “I will have to double-check and make sure that the answer is zero. But I can convey definitively that the vast, vast majority of staff will not be…”
So it looks like, at least, for now, the State Department will remain open and operational and no employees will be put on furloughs. (If you are with State/USAID and have received a furlough letter, give us a shout here).
How is this possible?
If there is no continuing resolution or new FY 2014 appropriations bill by October 1, 2013, certain Department of State and USAID operations can continue on a limited basis for a short period of time. At least, that’s what will happen initially. According to State, its FY 2013 appropriations were not enacted by Congress until late March causing uncertainty about the agency’s funding levels. The result was a reduction of agency spending for the first part of FY 2013. So certain multi-year State Department and USAID accounts have residual funds that will be available after September 30, 2013. These funds will allow the Department and USAID to continue to meet most payroll obligations for a short period of time.
How short a period of time, the spokesperson is unable to say.
In the 1995 shutdown, non-essential government workers were put on furlough and the government suspended non-essential services from November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996, for a total of 28 days. During that shutdown, 20,000-30,000 visa applications went unprocessed each day, as did 200,000 U.S. passport applications for the period. There were no numbers but this reportedly deeply impacted the tourism and travel sectors of the economy.”
That’s not happening this time around.
The State Department spokesman said yesterday that “activities carry out by our – by the Bureau of Consular Affairs will continue domestically and abroad. So that means they will continue visa issuance as well as our passport operations.”
There’s another reason why State may be able to sustain its operation even in a shutdown, at least for a limited time. Its public services like visa and passport issuances are now fee-based. When you apply for a passport or a visa, or obtain other consular services overseas, you pay a fee and that helps fund the programs. Processing fee for regular tourist and student visa is currently $160.00. Passport books and cards range in fee from $30 – $165.
In FY 2012, the State Department processed 10.3 million non-immigrant visa applications and issued 8.9 million visas, including 497,044 student and 313,424 exchange visitor visas. These international students reportedly contributed over $22.7 billion to the U.S. economy in 2011. In FY 2012, the State Department also issued 13.1 million passports and passport cards.
The State Department’s passport and visa operations generated approximately $3.14 billion in consular fee revenue in FY2012. It retained 78% or $2.45 billion of the total revenue. The retained fees were shared among its regional and functional bureaus. See breakdown below.
Prior to 1994, the Department did not retain any of the consular fees collected. Subsequently, Congress authorized the Department to retain Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees to help fund consular operations related to border security (I think the roll out of machine readable visas was not completed until the summer of 1996).
The Department is also authorized to collect and retain other fees to fund consular-related activities. It now retains a portion of the consular fees that it collects and remits the remaining portion to the U.S. Department of the Treasury. In FY 2010, the Department collected approximately $2.62 billion in fee revenue and was allowed to retain about 70 percent of the fees (or approximately $1.8 billion).
Various embassies and consulates have been tweeting that they are open for business and that applicants should keep their interview appointments.
The State Department’s guidance on operations during a lapse in appropriation is available here.