US Embassy Malta: OIG Slams Political Ambassador for "Outside Activities," Recommends Termination of Employees’ R&R Benefits

The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General had just released its inspection report of the US Embassy in Valleta, Malta. The embassy was the temporary safehaven location during the evacuation of US Embassy Tripoli weeks ago. It is one of the nine posts identified by the State Department to remain open at 100% staffing in the event of a government shutdown due to what it calls the “extreme nature of events.”
 
A quick look on Malta from the IG inspectors: 

Malta is a small island country located in the south-central Mediterranean, astride some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. It joined the European Union in 2004, the Schengen visa system in 2007, and the Eurozone in 2008. With a population of 412,000, it is the smallest country in the European Union.

The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, with a Christian culture that reaches back to the beginnings of the church. Reflecting the church’s continuing influence, abortion and divorce remain illegal. There is a small Muslim population of about 10,000, almost half of whom are migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Maltese and English are the official languages; English is widely spoken, a legacy of 150 years of British colonial rule between 1814 and independence in 1964.


The political ambassador on “a special mandate,” reluctant to accept guidance and instruction from Foggy Bottom. Excerpts from the IG report:

The Ambassador had been at post more than a year at the time of the inspection, and had achieved some policy successes. He is respected by Maltese officials and most mission staff, but his unconventional approach to his role as ambassador has created friction with principal officials in Washington, especially over his reluctance to accept their guidance and instructions. Based on a belief that he was given a special mandate to promote President Obama’s interfaith initiatives, he has devoted considerable time to writing articles for publication in the United States as well as in Malta, and to presenting his views on subjects outside the bilateral portfolio. He has been inconsistent in observance of clearance procedures required for publication. He also looks well beyond the bilateral relationship when considering possible events for the mission to host in Malta. His approach has required Department principals, as well as some embassy staff, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing his writings, speeches, and other initiatives. His official schedule has been uncharacteristically light for an ambassador at a post of this size, and on average he spends several hours of each work day in the residence, much of which appears to be devoted to his nonofficial writings.

At the same time, he has not focused sufficiently on key management issues within the embassy, including the NEC.
[…]
The Ambassador advised the inspection team that he intended to discontinue his outside writings and focus on matters that directly pertain to the embassy and priorities outlined in the Mission Strategic and Resource Plan (MSRP). Within weeks of the team’s departure, however, he resumed drafting public essays that addressed subjects outside his purview as Ambassador to Malta and detracted from his core responsibilities. These activities also detracted from the core responsibilities of embassy staff members who devoted time and effort to reviewing and editing the ambassador’s drafts and seeking approvals occasionally after the writings had been submitted for publication from Department officials.

RECOMMENDATION 1: The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs should require the Ambassador to report on his efforts to refocus attention on mission priorities and eliminate his use of embassy and Department resources
on nonofficial writings. (Action: EUR)


New Embassy Compound: 60% Expansion of LE Staff, Budget Increase at 125%, Utility Costs at 10-Fold Increase

The major challenges facing the embassy are the scheduled May 2011 move to the NEC and the additional staffing it will require. The new $125.5 million compound consists of eight separate buildings on 10 acres. The new chancery will be approximately twice as large as the current one, and more than twice as expensive to operate. The NEC will require a 60 percent expansion of LE staff, primarily guards.

The NEC also has budget implications for the embassy and the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. The embassy’s budget grew from $3.8 million in FY 2009 to $5.5 million in FY 2010. The projection for FY 2011 is $8.5 million, an increase of 125 percent in 2 years. In 2010, utility costs for the current chancery were about $130,000; utility costs for the NEC could reach $1.2 million annually, a 10-fold increase. Landscaping and cleaning contract costs also will increase significantly.

Upon completion, the 57,264-gross square feet chancery will provide a secure and functional space for the 62 employees for whom it was designed. The inspection team was surprised by several features, including three unclassified conference rooms, a political-economic section suite that will house just one officer, and a large IRC whose usage will be limited by the NEC location. The building also has air handling equipment within the controlled access area that will require cleared escorts for every maintenance and repair. In addition to the chancery, the compound also will have a 17,760- gross square feet warehouse, a 6,781- gross square feet Marine security guard quarters, and a 1,227- gross square feet recreational center, as well as a 2,142- gross square feet swimming pool.

OIG Calls Embassy’s Rest and Recuperation, An Unnecessary Expense; Recommends Termination

Employees at Embassy Valletta have been receiving rest and recuperation (R&R) travel benefits since at least 1991, the year the last R&R recertification could be located in embassy files. U.S. direct-hire staff on 3-year assignments receive two R&Rs, and entry-level officers on 2-year assignments receive one R&R. According to 3 FAH-1 H-3721.4, all posts that receive R&R are required to submit documentation every 2 years to the appropriate regional bureau executive to justify continued eligibility.

Embassy Valletta has not done so. The inspection team found no evidence to justify continuing R&R. The post’s own report of conditions cites excellent weather, adequate medical care, good local transportation, and easy access to Europe. In FY 2010, the Department spent about $40,000 to fund R&R travel for employees in Valletta—an unnecessary expense.

RECOMMENDATION 16: The Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs should discontinue the rest and recuperation benefit for Embassy Valletta. (Action: EUR)

Oh dear! A tiny island in the middle of the Med. And no getting off for three years, folks!   

Forbes quotes Ambassador Kmiec saying he would not apologize for how he has conducted himself in the job.

“I must say that I am troubled and saddened that a handful of individuals within my department in Washington seem to manifest a hostility to expressions of faith and efforts to promote better interfaith understanding,” Kmiec said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press. “Our constitution proudly protects the free exercise of religion — even for ambassadors.”


And might just be coincidence, of course — Pepperdine Graphic.com published Mr. Kmiec’s email (
also Pepperdine Law Professor) about that rescue effort the mission conducted with US Embassy Tripoli — headlined, “Ambassador Kmiec leads dangerous rescue:”

As you know, we — and when I say we, I mean some well trained consular, Coast Guard and Navy personnel under my direction — were able to rescue and evacuate all of the U.S. embassy employees in Tripoli ….
[…]
Former Secretary James Baker (a friend from my days as Ronald Reagan’s constitutional lawyer) was so impressed with our rescue work that he wrote me, “It appears that you have been very busy … It was nice to read the positive words that Prime Minister David Cameron said about your leadership.”  Apparently, Secretary Clinton feels the same way since when the budget deficit was looming and no budget threatened to close down virtually the entire federal government, except for a handful of exceptional services, our Embassy in Valletta was one of a handful of embassies around the globe deemed “essential” and not to be shuttered.

 Read in full here.

I’ve read the OIG report front and back, nothing there that says he cannot have his expressions of faith, I presumed the inspectors just wanted his eyes on the core goals of the embassy — after all that’s why we, the taxpayers pays for him and his staff to be there: strengthening maritime security, promoting U.S. trade and investment, the enforcement of nonproliferation sanctions against Iran and other countries that use Malta’s shipping facilities, trafficking in persons and attending to key management issues within the embassy.

Based on the above, I doubt if this political ambassador is going to change how he does his job.  One more WH headache, which I suspect will be tolerated given the much bigger headaches out there.  Those at the Bureau overseeing Malta will probably just have to live with this, I mean, what else can they do, eh? May need lots of Aspirin.

Related item:
OIG Report No. ISP-I-11-16A – Inspection of Embassy Valletta, Malta – March 2011

 


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State Dept Shutdown Details: Non-Emergency Consular Services To Stop, Routine Visa Services to be Suspended

The State Department has issued guidance to posts overseas in preparation for the government shutdown that may/may not happen at 12:01 AM on April 9. Below are excerpts from an unclassified cable STATE 00031768 (via AFSA):

C. The Bureau of Consular Affairs, as well as other areas in the Department, undertake a combination of excepted and non-excepted activities related to consular services. For the most part, visa and passport functions are not excepted activities, nor do fees entirely cover them. Instead, the Department relies on a mix of fee-funded and appropriation- funded employees and is dependent on support services that would be scaled back or eliminated during a shutdown. Therefore, the Department will not operate these non-excepted functions in the absence of appropriated funding.


D. Consular Operations Domestically: For all practical purposes, passport offices will be closed for the acceptance of new applications. Emergency passport services will be provided. As part of an orderly shutdown, domestic passport agency staff will remain on the job to process expedited applications already in the system. Domestic Bureau of Consular Affairs offices that must remain operational to support overseas excepted services are themselves engaged in excepted activities and will remain staffed at the appropriate minimal level.
Expedited passports will be processed immediately. Following the rescission of the furlough, non- expedited passports will be processed in the order of date received. In order to advance the safety of human life and in order to carry out authorized functions, CA will support the provision of emergency services for U.S. citizens overseas, including but not limited to those detailed in section D below; staff and support, as necessary, task forces related to U.S. citizens in crisis situations; and take urgent action to prevent international parental child abductions.



E. Consular Operations Overseas: Consular sections should cease the provision of routine consular services.

i. Routine services to U.S. citizens will be suspended; posts should provide only those services related to U.S. citizen emergencies necessary for the safety of human life or otherwise to carry out excepted activities, which include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Emergency passport issuance;
  • Deaths;
  • Arrests and detentions;
  • Welfare and whereabouts requests related to in-process parental child abduction cases and other instances where refusal to act would result in the endangerment of a U.S.citizen;
  • Emergency repatriation, Emergency Medical and Dietary Assistance (EMDA), and medical evacuation loans;
  • Continued payment to overseas beneficiaries of federal benefits already received by posts;
  • Assistance in extraditions and prisoner transfers that are in their final stages;
  • Support for in-process emergency adoption cases (such as when the child’s health or safety is at risk) that are at the point of visa issuance, when the adoptive parents are in country to pick up the child to return to the United States;
  • Assistance in returning abducted children to the United States from abroad or from the United States to the child’s home country;
  • All necessary consular functions at posts involved in crisis management activities, until the Department determines the crisis to have passed;
  • Support for consular systems, including software, fobs, Blackberries, and laptops that are essential to support emergency consular functions; and
  • Other exceptional or compelling circumstances that affect U.S. citizens, as determined by Overseas Citizens Services (CA/OCS) management.

ii. Posts abroad would process to conclusion any passport applications on hand at the time of shutdown. Excepted service would also include truly compelling emergency visa services (i.e., the issuance of a non-immigrant visa to an individual with a critically ill family member in the United States, diplomatic emergencies, adoption cases as described above, and immigrant visa cases in which the applicant will turn 21 and lose the claim to immigrant status). Posts should continue to review and pass to the Department urgent Visa Viper information. Routine visa services would be suspended. Posts should bear in mind that the Bureau of Consular Affairs will be minimally staffed during a shutdown.

Via AFSA | Guidance from the State Department Regarding Possible 2011 Shutdown

State Dept Shutdown Details: What Overseas Operations Will Continue? Which Posts Will Remain at 100% Staffing?

AFSA has posted a three-part cable issued by the State Department in preparation for operations in the event of a shutdown. Below are excerpts from STATE 00031768 posted in AFSA’s website. The cable outlines which operations are expected to continue and which posts are expected to be staffed at 100% even in a shutdown:


ii. In broad summary, the following describes the types of Department of State operations abroad, among others, that we expect will be continued in the event of a lapse in appropriations:

  • Diplomatic reporting, involving most bilateral and multilateral issues, arms control issues, and “crisis countries” will require nearly 100% staffing which is necessary to support this essential function to our nation’s security.

  • In the consular area, American citizens’ services, emergency visa services (e.g., those for life/death or medical emergencies, humanitarian cases involving minor children, and diplomatic travel) would continue. Basic visa issuance would be severely curtailed.

  • Regional medical centers providing life-supporting medical care would be staffed at between 90% and 100%.

  • Refugee assistance, narcotics interdiction, and repatriation loan programs would continue at nearly 100%.

  • Staffing for Administrative functions would be reduced somewhat, as a direct result of reduced numbers of staff (both Department of State and other U.S. Government agencies) requiring support. However, all security and medical functions would be performed, as would most communications functions. MEDEVACs would continue, as required. General services, financial services, and personnel functions would be curtailed by and large.

  • Support for travel, by the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, and other Cabinet-level officials, as well as international conferences’ negotiators. Participation in major international fora such as the U.N. must be fully staffed.

  • Given the extreme nature of events, certain posts will be at 100% staffing, including Baghdad, Cairo, Islamabad, Kabul, Sana’a, Tokyo, Tunis, Valetta, and Yamoussoukro.

  • We will maintain full Marine Security Groups, continue drug interdiction and law enforcement functions, and continue criminal investigations.

Via AFSA | Guidance from the State Department Regarding Possible 2011 Shutdown

State Dept Shutdown Details: 30-40% Excepted Domestic Employees, Significantly Higher Excepted Employees Overseas

AFSA has posted a three-part cable issued by the State Department in preparation for operations in the event of a shutdown. (Ref: UNCLAS STATE 031767, SUBJECT: PREPARATION FOR OPERATIONS IN THE ABSENCE OF APPROPRIATIONS (PART II OF III). The cable asks chiefs of missions to finalize plans by OOB April 8, 2011.

Excerpts below:

5. If a lapse of appropriations occurs, the Department would shut down non-excepted operations. After that, only excepted activities (and those funded by multi-year or no-year appropriations, trust funds, other permanent appropriations, and the Working Capital Fund) would continue. The Anti- Deficiency Act, a statute with criminal penalties for unauthorized obligation of funds, would require all employees performing non-excepted functions to be furloughed. Voluntary services may not legally be accepted.


Excepted functions include:


1) those necessary for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property;


2) those necessary for activities essential to the national security, including the conduct of foreign relations essential to the national security; and


3) those activities funded from an appropriation that has not lapsed, or no-year appropriations with remaining available balances.


6. Under the Department’s current domestic plan, excepted employees will likely be from 30 to 40 percent of the Department’s domestic employees. I would expect a significantly higher percentage of excepted positions abroad for at least State than in Washington because of the unique overseas factors, including the following:


a. Department of State personnel abroad perform a diplomatic reporting function that is essential to the conduct of foreign relations and the national defense, providing invaluable information to prevent and contain crises affecting our national security.


b. Our personnel abroad are also a vital means by which the USG carries out diplomacy. This communication is essential to the conduct of foreign relations and may be required on short notice to prevent or contain crises.


c. Our posts symbolize the presence of the United States of America abroad. Closing down or significantly scaling back operations abroad could immediately diminish our influence and be misinterpreted by foreign governments as a sign of diplomatic disfavor, damaging our relations with the host governments.


d. Our posts abroad provide emergency services to American citizens, assisting them in times of death, accident, incarceration, and other personal hardship.


e. Our posts abroad are also the platform that supports the work of other US agencies abroad. Department personnel provide essential administrative support for other agencies abroad. These agencies could not conduct their excepted activities if the Department support personnel were not present.


f. To the extent that the LE staff must be paid under host country labor laws, regardless of attendance, we would be authorized to treat them as if excepted.


7. While there clearly may be posts in current crisis situations, most posts’ profile would likely resemble the following:

Executive Office – 100% staffing


Political Section – 50 to 75%


Economic Section – 25 to 50%


Regional Security Office – 100%


Consular Section
– American Citizen Services – 100%
– Visas – 0%
– Consular Supervisors – 50% (to also handle emergency visa cases)


Public Affairs Section
– Cultural Affairs – 0%
– Press – 50%


Management Section – 100% (ICASS funding)


Facilities Section – 100% (OBO funding)

A separate cable, STATE 00031768 talks about the higher percentage of excepted positions overseas and cited multiple factors for this:

i. We anticipate a significantly higher percentage of excepted positions abroad than in Washington because of these unique factors:


– Department of State personnel perform a diplomatic reporting function that is essential to the conduct of foreign relations and the national security, providing invaluable information to all national security agencies that helps prevent and contain crises affecting our national security.


– Our personnel abroad are also the primary means by which the U.S. Government carries out diplomacy. This communication is essential to the conduct of foreign relations and may be required on short notice to prevent or contain crises.


– Our posts abroad symbolize the presence of the United States of America abroad. Closing down or significantly scaling back operations abroad could immediately diminish our influence and damage our relations with the host governments.


– Our posts abroad are also the platform that supports the work of other U.S. agencies abroad. Department personnel provide essential administrative support for other agencies abroad. These agencies could not conduct their excepted activities if Department support personnel were not present.


– Because many countries’ labor laws require that our local employees and contractors be paid regardless of attendance, we are authorized to treat them as if excepted.

Via AFSA | Guidance from the State Department Regarding Possible 2011 Shutdown

 

 

 

US Declares Ecuadorian Ambassador "Persona Non Grata"

The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA) Arturo Valenzuela had reportedly informed the Ecuadorian Ambassador to the United States, Luis Gallegos on April 7 that he had been declared persona non grata and must leave the United States as soon as possible.

Earlier this week, Ecuador had declared US Ambassador Heather Hodges personal non grata and was asked to leave the country as soon as possible (see Ecuador Declares US Ambassador “Persona Non Grata” Over Dirty Laundry). So now, compliments returned, what’s next?   

Via CNN:

In a diplomatic tit for tat, the U.S. State Department said Thursday it has ordered the Ecuadorian ambassador expelled from the United States.

The move follows the expulsion of Heather Hodges, the U.S. ambassador to Ecuador, earlier this week over the contents of a leaked State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks.

The Ecuadorian government declared Hodges persona non grata and asked her to leave as soon as possible, the state-run Andes news agency reported.

Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino declined to call it an expulsion, though Hodges was effectively being kicked out of the country.

“Obviously, we believe that she was unjustifiably declared persona non grata,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters Wednesday before the decision on the expulsion.

Read the whole thing here.

Related articles


Soldiers Will Continue to Fight But Stop Getting Paid, Congress Will Continue to Play Chicken and Still Get Paid

Something very wrong with this picture

The Cable’s Josh Rogin points out that the government shutdown would mean soldiers stop getting paid:

In the event of a shutdown, all uniformed military personnel would continue to work but would stop receiving paychecks, an official familiar with the government’s planning told The Cable. As April 8 falls in the middle of the Defense Department’s two-week pay period, military personnel would actually receive a paycheck totaling half the normal amount. A large number of Pentagon civilians would be furloughed without pay for the duration of the shutdown. Support structures for military families, such as military schools, would remain open. When the shutdown ends, the soldiers would get their back pay but the civilians might not.

Most personnel at U.S. foreign missions would be retained, the official said, although about two-thirds of the State Department and USAID staff in Washington would be furloughed. Non-emergency passport services for Americans would also likely be suspended. Up to three-quarters of the staff at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative would be sent home without pay.

U.S. diplomats and military officials would still be able to travel for important meetings, but “it will be a much, much, much tougher standard,” the official said, explaining that travel would be approved only “if it is integral to the foreign relations and safety and security of the country.”

The shutdown would also impact government organizations that help American companies do business abroad. For example, the Export-Import Bank would stop approving new loan guarantees or insurance policies, the official said, which could cost American exporters $2 billion to $4 billion each month in income and jeopardize deals already in progress.

Read more here:

Also from The Cable guy, about that bit on Congressmen still getting paid during the shutdown:

A senior administration official confirmed to The Cable that even if the taps are shut off, all Congressmen will later be reinbursed their entire salaries no matter how long the shutdown lasts. Staffers who are deemed essential enough to keep working through the crisis could also get paid, but most will be sent home, without pay for the forced leave.

On the conference call, the officials confirmed The Cable’s report that uniformed members of the military will not get paid during the shutdown, although they will get the money back later (not with interest). The officials also confirmed that the vast majority of Defense Department, State Department, and USAID civilians would be furloughed, as well as most White House staff.

“We expect that a significant number of DOD employees, unfortunately, would be furloughed during this shutdown,” the official said.

Read in full here.  


LA Times reported on what happens to law enforcement folks and the military and who gets paid when:

Federal law enforcement agencies would be up and running, and many in the military would still be working. Those employees, however, wouldn’t be paid for their work until a bill is passed.

“They will be paid once we have money again to pay them,” the first senior administration official said.

If a shutdown lasts only a few days, most in the military would receive their full paycheck April 15, officials said. But if a shutdown lasts beyond the mid-April pay period, they would get about half of their check on April 15 and have to wait until the next pay period for the rest.

The burden on military families, at a time when troops are deployed on three fronts, was a pointed reminder of how a 2011 shutdown could be markedly different from its infamous predecessors in 1995 and 1996.

Read in full here.

The Senate had passed a stand alone bill that precludes paychecks and retroactive pay  to lawmakers and the President in the event of a shutdown but the House of Reps has continued to danced around this paycheck issue and has refused to even consider a stand alone bill.    
Voters elect politicians who appears to be uncompromising. But what get things done is when our elected representatives actually do the hard work of hammering out a compromise that is acceptable to most of their constituents, not just to a tiny, loud, fraction of ideologues.

So if politicians are actually conducting negotiation in honest to goodness effort beyond old politics and ideology, then let’s follow the money.  If they don’t get paid, we’d know that they won’t be able to pay their bills like regular people working for Uncle Sam. We know that they are doing their darn best otherwise they, too, won’t get paid.

Lets call their congressional paychecks innocent hostages of our times. But they’d have more credibility when they talk about sacrifices and all. 

But if our representatives get their paychecks while 800,000 feds and I don’t know how many soldiers suffers the consequences of their juvenile antics, what does that tell us about our elected representatives?

Simply that they can’t do their jobs. And that they are frankly, incompetent at what they were elected to do but most competent at looking after their own self interest.   


In any functioning democracies, elected representatives have to learn to compromise. Only dictators get 101% of what they want. Haven’t they learned that in their basic civics class?

And here’s the other thing that is just supremely poor taste –not only are members of Congress exempted from the furloughs and continue to earn their paychecks during a shutdown, they also get to designate their staffers as essential employees.

Politico reported that about 800,000 federal employees will have to stay home if the government shuts down, but Rep. Darrell Issa’s staff won’t be among them.

The California Republican said he’ll use his congressional prerogative to keep his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee staff at work. Congressional offices can declare that their employees are necessary to fulfill constitutional responsibilities — which can cover pretty much anything under the sun — and that’s what Issa (@DarrellIssa) tweeted that he’ll do.

“If gov’t shuts down, we won’t. I believe those who choose to come into work fall under my Constitutional arm. Accountability must continue.”

Okay so — they’ll be holding hearings while their witnesses are in furloughs? Just swell!


Govt Shutdown: State Dept Making Contingency Plans But No Details Until 11:59 on Friday Night?

The State Dept press corps tried to catch the Acting Spokesman Mark C. Toner around the room the other day on what might happen in our overseas posts during the government shutdown, specifically those related to passport and visa applications.  Not much success in the catching game but the Dept is apparently making contingency plans. It’s just that there are no details available for public consumption until closer to 11:59 p.m. on April 8. It’s tough on the agencies but well, that still sucks! 

Visa appointments normally starts off early in the morning. Sometimes applicants travel from far away places to get to their interviews. It is conceivable that if the OMB shutdown notice does not come down until late Friday, Sat, Sunday or Monday morning (take your pick, why not?), there will be visa applicants who will be stuck somewhere without knowing when their interviews will actually occur.  And since no one knows how long the shutdown might last, it will be close to impossible to start rescheduling interviews as you cancel appointments.  That’s not just tourist and student visa applicants, that also includes immigrant visa applicants who mostly have American citizens as petitioners also known as voters.

It’s a good thing, you are not expected to do any representational events during the shutdown, or you may need a paper bag over your head as you greet official guests. Of course, since Congress will not be on shutdown, you might still see a CODEL in your neck of the woods. Well, them being the perpetrators of this Great Game of Chicken of 2011, they can presumably explain to the soldiers who they visit why lawmakers get paid while warriors don’t get their paychecks. And they can also explain to the foreign officials that they visit why they padlocked Uncle Sam’s shop.  Get your Skillcraft pens ready and take notes. Should be interesting stories there.

I expect this to be particularly messy and embarrassing overseas. For starters —    

1) Foreign governments and host country nationals will have a hard time wrapping their heads around the fact that the most powerful country in the world, the US of A is run by juveniles who ate too much candy and are unable to do their jobs.

2) There will be a potential backlash from host country nationals who will be inconvenienced by the non-availability of interviews that they have already paid for (in prior shutdowns, they did not have to pay for their visa applications).

3) There will be Americans who will be unable to receive services overseas and will be angry and could even turn nasty.  If they threaten to report you to their senators and congressman, do please encourage them to go right ahead. If you want to be helpful, have the congressional representatives names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses available for a quick handout.

4) Expect foes and allies to be laughing/shaking their heads off – the United States of America, democracy in action, what’s not to like? Har! Har! Har!   

And by the way, after Congress shuts down the government in about 24 hours, they should do it again for the 2012 budget, because — hell, why the heck not? This would give them a chance to talk about patriotism, sacrifices, and all that, even if they cannot do the hard work of coming together in a compromise like adults without the sugar high.  Besides, they still get their paychecks even in a shutdown, and even when they have nothing to show as accomplishments since Congress convened in early January. What’s not to like?     

Below from the DPB:      

QUESTION: This shutdown that is under the clouds of shutdown, what is the State Department doing about it? Like, what is the message you are sending, for example, in Delhi? The Government of India, when it sees that government there’s a shutdown, how do – does it handle the Embassy staff there? Like —

MR. TONER: Good question, Tejinder. First and foremost, I think the message we’re sending is one that echoes the President’s message yesterday was that we are – we continue to believe a shutdown can be avoided, and also recognizing the importance of this matter because people depend on government services. Certainly, the Department of State, as a national security agency, has begun planning for the possibility of a shutdown. It should be noted that we will continue to implement our mission with – even with reduced staff.

We’re obviously receiving many inquiries both from the American public as well as you guys about what may happen to such services as passport and consular services, visa services, in the event of a shutdown. What I can say at this point is that they’re likely to be affected, but I can’t give much more detail beyond that. We will, however, continue to provide services vital to national security of the United States, including providing emergency consular services to U.S. citizens in need. I think I said yesterday that’s one of our core functions, and so we’ll continue to do that no matter what.

Beyond that, we’re making these contingency plans. We don’t have details. If this does happen, we’ll certainly communicate clearly to the American public what services are going to be directly affected and what they can expect, frankly, from the State Department.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up. If I have an appointment with the American Embassy for a visa on Monday, so should I be worried? Should I go? Should I not go?

MR. TONER: You should be – you should check the website. That will be one source of how we update information. We’ll likely put out statements, and I would also check with the Embassy –

QUESTION: When will that be –

MR. TONER: — once we get closer. But again, Tejinder, I think right now we are – while we are doing prudent planning, we also are – continue to believe that this can be resolved.

QUESTION: The visa appointments usually are starting very early in the morning.

MR. TONER: They are.

QUESTION: So what happens on those early appointments on Monday morning?

MR. TONER: Well, again, I would look to embassies to update their websites over the weekend. It’s a very good question, thank you. If that somehow changes, I’ll let you know in the course of the day tomorrow. But I would – what I would advise is that folks who do have early morning visa appointments on Monday check with the embassy website in their country as well as our embassy – as our State Department website here.

QUESTION: How much planning is going – I’m wondering how involved it is and how much it’s taking away from what everyone here would be doing in their normal jobs. It’s –

MR. TONER: I mean, look, we’re certainly planning for it. I mean, obviously, OMB has the overall or overarching responsibility here. But we’re certainly aware of the deadline, and we’re taking steps to ensure that we’re able to carry out our duties that are in the pursuit of our national security recognizing, again, some of the likely consequences will be reduced staff and other impacts.

QUESTION: So you think if the government shuts down on Friday night that the embassies are still going to be updating their websites over the weekend?

MR. TONER: We will – as I said, we will –

QUESTION: No, I realize that –

MR. TONER: Yeah, no, it’s a good question, Matt.

QUESTION: I realize that you want to –

MR. TONER: That’s a good question.

QUESTION: — treat this as a hypothetical because it’s still an “if” question, but the problem is is that by refusing to reveal your plans for dealing with this, you are creating intense hardship and consternation among not just American citizens but people around the world who want to know. And you can’t just say – continue to say, “Well, we’re planning,” and not tell people what they should expect –

MR. TONER: We – when –

QUESTION: — simply because you’re hoping that a shutdown isn’t going happen.

MR. TONER: Again, we understand that people need to have information about what they can expect even over the weekend or certainly come Monday morning, and we will get that information out.

QUESTION: Well, how –

MR. TONER: And we will get it out in a timely manner.

QUESTION: Well, if someone today needs a passport, what should they do if the government is going be shut down? If they apply by mail, is it just going to sit there? And their application is just going sit there and nothing is going to happen to it for weeks on end or however long this lasts?

MR. TONER: Again, those services may be impacted, but I can’t say at this time how long it might be impacted for.

QUESTION: Do you have –

QUESTION: Well, I know that you can’t say how long it will be impacted, but why can’t you – you need to give some advice on what to do in the event that there is a government shutdown. And I don’t think you can escape by saying it’s still a – it’s a hypothetical until 11:59 on Friday night.

MR. TONER: I did not say we would wait until 11:59 on Friday night, but –

QUESTION: Well, yeah, you did. You said to check the embassy websites over the weekend.

MR. TONER: We will update information on what Americans should do –

QUESTION: And for all we know, there might not be any people working on the embassy –

MR. TONER: — on what Americans should do in the event that there is a shutdown and how it will affect visa services and passport services.

QUESTION: And when do you think that information might be available?

MR. TONER: I – we’ll make it available at an appropriate time. I don’t have a specific date.

QUESTION: Well, presumably, it would be before 11:59 on Friday night?

MR. TONER: Presumably.

QUESTION: Can you –

QUESTION: Mark, just on the passport/visa issue, which is one that a lot of people are really interested in –

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — you said it will be affected. Does it mean that visa services would stop or slow down? Can you at least go that far?

MR. TONER: I think there’s going to be – there would be an impact, obviously, if only because of the effect of reduced personnel, but it’s hard for me to say right now whether that would be a significant slowdown or beyond that.

QUESTION: Mark, can you just – just a quick follow-up on that. Can you just give us an idea of what kind of plans you have for the damage control or the whitewash, because there’s already – there is already damaging on the image of U.S. and other –

MR. TONER: (Laughter.) We try not use the word “whitewash” from the podium. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: You understand it, though.

QUESTION: You said – I’m sorry, the question again was?

QUESTION: About the damage control or the whitewash for the – what is going on about the reputation of the U.S. in other capitals.

MR. TONER: Look, I mean, this is a broader issue. Our legislative bodies are discussing it with the executive branch, and it’s an important, important matter, and it’s part – it’s something that’s fundamental to our democracy. And they’re working to achieve consensus. It’s all the elements of the democratic process that make our country great. There’s no need to have some kind of propaganda or a spin campaign about it. It is what it is. It is democracy in action, and we’re hopeful that consensus can be reached.

QUESTION: Mark can –

QUESTION: Is there any reason to think that an effort to get anything done in a shutdown this time will be any different from what it was in ’95?

MR. TONER: It’s a fair question. I was overseas in 1995. I believe I continued to work. But there may be elements. It’s a different world. It’s a different – we communicate differently. There’s different – information management has become much more important to the Department. So it’s – there certainly will be elements that are different. I just don’t know right now.

QUESTION: Can you say yet whether the Administration – whether the State Department has its plan in place and –

MR. TONER: I think we’re finalizing a contingency plan. I mean, we’re a few days away, so we’re certainly hard at work on it.

QUESTION: Okay, and can you say at this point whether you’ve determined a set number of people that are – who would not be coming to work under that circumstance or a percentage or something?

MR. TONER: No, I – we’re still evaluating those numbers, and I don’t have any numbers for you now.

QUESTION: Mark, can you just clarify one thing? Let’s say in India, missions in India, it takes months to get an appointment for whatever –

MR. TONER: It does, and Tejinder spoke to this, and you’re talking about the visa process for interviews and –

QUESTION: Right, how are you going to handle those people? They have traveled miles and miles, hundreds of miles away to Delhi or in Bombay (inaudible) capital and all that.

MR. TONER: It’s a very, very fair question. I know firsthand how these people come for visa interviews, how they wait even on regular business days, and their patience in waiting in line, waiting for a visa interview, and indeed the length of time it takes to apply for an interview which speaks to, again, the – that many people want to travel to the United States. We will – I understand that – your question very well, and we will work again to make information available. I’ll try to get more details about how individual embassies may try to get that information out to people with interviews and how they may have to —

QUESTION: Adjust.

MR. TONER: — to adjust their interviews. I’m sure that’s all being taken under active consideration.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Your concern – just to be made clear, your concerns extend to people beyond Indians, correct?

MR. TONER: Absolutely, worldwide, yes.

QUESTION: It will extend to countries around the world?

MR. TONER: Yes. Yes. They do.

QUESTION: It’s not just India where this is going to be a problem.

MR. TONER: Yes.