Dear State Department, Can You Please Keep Your Deputy Spokesperson In The Loop!

— By Domani Spero

We are on Day 4 of the shutdown.   Except for the employees from the Inspector General Office (and the International Water Boundary Commission) who were furloughed on the first day of the shutdown, the State Department is open and operational.  Naturally, folks are interested on two things: 1) how long can the State Department sustain its worldwide operation without new funding and 2) how many people had been furloughed.

The State Department is full of smart people. We imagine that they know exactly how long the carryover funds would last before Congress shut down the government, and they know exactly how many employees will be furloughed immediately after the lapse in appropriation.  To say that we are still crunching the numbers the day after the shutdown doesn’t make a lot of sense. Everybody knew this was coming.  And for the spokesperson not to have funding and furlough numbers four days into the shutdown is simply absurd.

We should note that the spokesperson only talks about what The Building allows him/her to talk about. Once he/she says it on the podium, it is official. So if they sound like broken records, at times, that’s because they are repeating their talking points. They do not talk beyond the chalk marks around the talking points.  Their value is in their ability to stick to their talking points without antagonizing the press even if the press runs around the room after them half a dozen times.

On Day 3 of the shutdown, it went like this:

QUESTION: Today’s Washington Post editorial was referring to the issue of the securities of the – let’s say, the embassies.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And in the same time, the policy – or at least now the policy is to keep the embassies open. How you justify this? Is it a risk to leave it open or not?

MS. HARF: No. So we’re not taking risks with our security at our embassies overseas right now. Clearly, that posture hasn’t changed. We always take security as the highest priority overseas with our embassies and our people. What I had mentioned at the beginning is it will be harder for us to continue to augment that security. So the longer we go on, the longer the shutdown goes on, we can’t get new DS agents up and trained to go overseas and continue augmenting our security, as we’ve talked about for a long time.

But our security posture remains the same, and the reason the embassies and consulates are open is because that’s really the forefront of the diplomatic work we do every day. We process visas. We get American citizens passports. We have American citizen services all over the world. We just saw a few weeks ago, when we had to shut some embassies temporarily because of a terrorist threat, all the questions and the concerns around that. Our goal is always to have them open. That’s why we’re there in a lot of places around the world.

Yes, Deb, and then I’ll go to you, Scott.

QUESTION: Shutdown?

MS. HARF: Shutdown, yeah.

QUESTION: You mentioned a few furloughs, okay. So that begs the question: How many?

MS. HARF: I know. Everyone wants specific numbers. I don’t have a specific number for you.

QUESTION: Why is it so hard to get a number?

MS. HARF: It’s just – I don’t have it. These are complicated things. We’re talking to the offices about what we can get you in terms of numbers. We just don’t have it right now.

QUESTION: You mean fewer than 10 or —

MS. HARF: It’s a small number. I just don’t have the actual number for you.

QUESTION: Fifty or less?

MS. HARF: I’ll see if I can – I will see if I can do something for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I’m not trying to be too cute by half here; I just don’t have a number.

Then today this happened:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04

There are three possibilities we can think of here: 1) no one in Foggy Bottom knows how to count; 2) the State Department leadership does not want the numbers released for whatever reason; 3) the spokesperson is purposely kept out of the loop, so these numbers are not on her briefing book.

Seriously folks.

We don’t want to beat up @marieharf.  We do think it undermines the credibility of the agency’s public face when she is unable to answer fairly simple questions.  These are not “complicated things” unless they have been made purposely so.  To what end, we do not know.

Can you imagine Ambassador Richard Boucher the longest-serving Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and spokesman in the U.S. Department of State’s history unable to answer these simple questions?  We can’t either.

In related news, we are starting to see tweets from official State Department accounts saying: “Due to the lapse in appropriations this Twitter feed will not be updated regularly. Please visit @StateDept for updates.” And this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04

Still waiting for an answer to the “why” question. It’s not coming? Okay.

Wait, here’s one answer:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 3.13.52 PM

What we’re seriously wondering is if the State Department’s twitteratis have been asked to “consider the perception” of “business as usual” on Twitter during a shutdown.  We’re full of serious, today — have they?

Just now we received word from a political nightingale, “We’ve also been told, even though we are working, that we are NOT to give speeches. At all.” 

Okay, that probably also means, all official receptions at posts are off including receptions for new ambassadors just getting to post – because. Optics. 

Updated at 7:07 EST with Ambassador Warlick’s response, and update on no speeches allowed. 

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