State Dept Declares Inspector General Office “Non-Essential”, Furloughs All Staffers Except a Handful (Corrected)

— By Domani Spero

 

The State Department Under Secretary for Management Patrick Kennedy sent a letter to employees on September 30 reiterating, that “Department offices, bureaus, and State elements at our posts overseas will continue to function for a limited period of time.

In the September 30 Daily Press Briefing (DPB), State Department was going to stay open despite the shutdown.  (See Shutdown News:  State Department Stays Open and Operational. For Now.)

The MGT memo and the October 1 DPB now indicates that “a small number of offices” will be impacted initially by the shutdown.

When pressed for the affected offices, Ms. Psaki promised to get “a specific list.” But she added that “the way that it’s categorized, the impacted offices are those that operate with one-year funds that do not have available carryover funds to sustain operations. So they don’t have funds from the previous fiscal year and they are on one-year funding mechanisms.”

QUESTION: I’m just concerned, when you said they’ll be – continue to function for a time, I know you wouldn’t give weeks or days. But if I’m overseas and I need to see somebody at the embassy, I better get myself there right away?
[…]
QUESTION: What does “for a time” mean? I mean, “for a time” could be anything, correct?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I separated —

QUESTION: I mean, you said —

MS. PSAKI: Let me just finish. I separated out that as – the consular services as – I think as I said, since consular operations are fee-funded, there is significantly less chance at any point those individuals will be furloughed. And passport and consular services are fee-funded, which means they pay for themselves. So obviously, those operations will continue. Now, we can’t predict how long this will continue, so I’m just conveying that we’re taking it day by day.

We were looking for some clarity like this:

“SIGAR’s FY 2013 Appropriations provided $48.04M (post sequestration)5 in funds as multi-year funds. At present, SIGAR is projecting a carryover of$7.9M in unobligated funding to FY 2014, which will remain available through September 30, 2014. SIGAR will use this funding to delay the large disruption a lapse in funding would cause to SIGAR’s employees and operations. SIGAR projects the available funding will sustain current operations through December I, 2013 (61 days).”

We hope such clarity is forthcoming from the podium but we’re not holding our breath.  So folks will be left guessing how long the carryover funds will last for the rest of the agency.

In any case, Ms. Psaki was also asked about furloughed employees:

QUESTION: Were there any employees that, let’s say, came today and had to leave after four hours, like was suggested by some?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I referred to just a minimal number impacted by one-year funded programs. But the vast majority of employees reported to work today, are here today. Given that we are part of – we are a national security agency and we represent American interests around the world, that’s where our staffing levels are at this point.

QUESTION: So it’s safe to assume that some people did come to work, spent two or three hours, and then were asked to go home?

MS. PSAKI: I did not imply that. I think there’s a small, minimal number that are impacted by the one-year programs. That’s – beyond that, I don’t have specific numbers.

We just don’t understand this.  How hard is it to admit that yes, some employees had been furloughed?  Here’s what we’ve learned so far:

The State Department’s Office of Inspector General (State/OIG) has approximately 50 200 employees.  In one of its six offices (Inspection, Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX) four out of approximately 50 employees were declared “excepted.”  The rest were given letters notifying them that they had been furloughed. So on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the State/OIG employees worked no more than four hours to “shutdown” then went home for an undetermined period of time.  We understand that all inspections (save one already in the field) have been suspended.

That’s right.  The office entrusted with ensuring that waste, fraud, and abuse does not occur within the Department was deemed “non-essential” and sent home without pay.  (Also see Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days).

Correction:  State/OIG’s Inspection branch has approximately 65 employees; adding the number of staffers from Audit, Investigation and other units we are told totals approximately 200 employees. One branch has four employees designated as “excepted” out of 50 employees.  We are guesstimating that about 10-12% of the total IG staff has been declared “excepted.” We will update the numbers if we get further clarification, officially or unofficially.  The blogpost title has been corrected.  

By contrast, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), also in the national security cone, has all its staff in Washington, DC and Afghanistan working normal.  That’s a staff of about 190 including 50 deployed to the war zone considered “”emergency essential” (EE) personnel.”

In any case, everything else is reportedly open and operational in the State Department including the Foreign Service Institute. It looks like State/OIG was the only exception, so the spokesperson’s “specific list” should be very short. Most other offices are apparently on two-year funding which we are told should last (unconfirmed officially) “until next week.”

AFSA’s update to members cited an unnamed Department management official conveying to HR employees that “there appeared to be enough funds to continue operations for approximately one pay period.”  Furthermore, the Department will reportedly try to provide ample notice (e.g. approximately 5 business days) to non-excepted employees before any emergency furlough. Also, bureaus (with exception of OIG) have not scrubbed their excepted/non-excepted lists nor notified any employees of their individual status.

(*O*)

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Venezuela Kicks Out Top US Diplomat, Two Other Officials For … Wait For It ….Blackouts!

— By Domani Spero

Venezuela’s embattled President Nicolás Maduro accused the top U.S. diplomat at the US Embassy in Caracas and two other embassy officials of “acts of sabotage” and ordered them to leave the country.

In a fiery televised speech, Mr. Maduro says that the diplomats have 48 hours to leave the country, and for sound effects, adds the usual serving of “Yankees, go home!”.  According to BBC News, Mr. Maduro says he has evidence that the trio took part in a power-grid sabotage in September and had bribed Venezuelan companies to cut down production. (See BBC News – Venezuela expels three US diplomats over ‘sabotage’).

“We detected a group of US embassy officials dedicated to meeting the far-right and to financing and encouraging acts of sabotage against the electrical system and Venezuela’s economy,” the president said in a televised speech.

The Caracas Chronicles calls the proof the “Smoking Squirt Gun”; video here complete with a pirated soundtrack featuring the three diplomats.

The top U.S. diplomat in Venezuela is Charge d’Affairs Kelly Keiderling. The other two diplomats asked to leave are reportedly Consular Officer David Moo and Elizabeth Hoffman, who works in the Embassy Caracas’ political section.

Below is Charge Kelly Keiderling with her goodbye:

Late Tuesday, the AP reported that the State Department  was expelling Venezuelan charge d’affaires Calixto Ortega Rios and Second Secretary Monica Alejandra Sanchez Morales at the Washington embassy and Consul Marisol Gutierrez de Almeida at the Houston consulate. In the spirit of reciprocity, it gave the Venezuelan diplomats 48 hours to leave the U.S.

“It is regrettable that the Venezuelan government has again decided to expel U.S. diplomatic officials based on groundless allegations, which require reciprocal action. It is counterproductive to the interests of both our countries,” the State Department said.

Back in early September when Venezuela was crippled by a massive power failure that left 70% of the country without electricity, President Maduro insisted that the blackout was “the result of a plot by the extreme Right to mount an “electrical strike” against the country.”

According to the WSJ, Venezuela opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who lost April elections to Mr. Maduro as Hugo Chavez’ successor said that the power failure underscored mismanagement at state companies.

“The blackout today demonstrates one more time the terrible incapacity of this government,” Mr. Capriles said in a post on his official Twitter account. “Now they’ll come up with another story to try to cover up the failure.”

But really  — why stop at blaming the Yankees for just the blackouts? If he’s smart as he think he is, Mr. Maduro could solve his whole problem of things falling apart with a simple strategy — just blame the Yankees for everything!  Because why not? It’s free.

The thing is —  “Yankees, go home!” is really, really getting old.  It has lost its pizzazz and shock value, no?  So below are some helpful hints so Mr. Maduro has something else to talk and shout about:

Hyperinflation at 45.4%:  When somebody asks about the country’s 45.4% inflation rate, don’t answer the question. Presidents do not have to answer questions! Instead, ask this: Who are engaging in economic “sabotage”? Since you’re the president, you are allowed to answer your own question, too!  Here’s the cheat sheet: “The Yanquis and enemies of the people are teaming up with greedy Venezuelan shopkeepers to undermine the country’s currency.  They plan to push the inflation to 50% before the year is over.”  Get that?  Then you sit and wait until the inflation spikes to 50% around December, and you tell everyone, “I told you so.” Or you can shout – Yankees! ¡Te lo dije!

Scarcity Index:  The Venezuelan Central Bank’s scarcity index, a measure of products missing from store shelves edged up to 20% in August. Now this one is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.  Two things you can do: One, say that the Yankees obviously sends their agents routinely all over the country to buy up cooking oil, powdered milk, toilet paper, and all other products to keep the shelves empty.  Remember, these Yankees sent men to the moon, of course, they can make food items disappear, silly.  Two, if this doesn’t work, go ahead and declare all news related to shortages as war propaganda. Media outlets which report shortages should be punished or nationalized.  Go shout – “Shut up! The stores are not empty!” That should shut everyone upCállate!  Las tiendas no están vacías! Try it, try it, it works.

Violent Crime:  Venezuela remained one of the deadliest countries in the world in 2012, with a record number of homicides reported by both official and non-official sources. Venezuela had approximately 21,692 homicides in 2012, a rate of 73 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants; more than double Colombia’s rate, and triples Mexico’s homicide rate five years into its “drug war.”  Crazy, right? Don’t worry.  You can always say that whoever came up with these number do not know anything about math. Yankees — no saben matemáticas!  Repeat often, even if not needed.

Carjackings:  According to government statistics, in 2012 Caracas saw more than 3,300 carjackings and 2,800 forcible motorcycle robberies. These numbers are in addition to the approximately 2,800 cars and 2,900 motorcycles that were surreptitiously taken. Carjacking victims in 2012 have included business executives and foreign diplomats in Caracas.  Also skyrocketing numbers in kidnappings, home invasions, street gangs, blah, blah, blah.  Well, if you’re confronted with these numbers, just deny, deny, deny.  Of course, the Yankees must have paid these statisticians to over count these cases, too. Arrest them!  With feelings, you should shout, according to Google Translate, “arrestarlos inmediatamente!”  

Now that should help keep things spicy a bit.

One last thing though, and this is sorta important. We think the Venezuelan Government should stop declaring American diplomats persona non grata.  If President Maduro kicks out any more embassy official, there won’t be any American diplomat left in Caracas.

You don’t think this is going to be a problem?

Who is he going to blame for the shortage of toilet paper in the country?

(ñ_ñ)