Operation Chaos: $4.2Billion and counting, this is the ongoing #TrumpShutdown cost to U.S. taxpayers

Posted: 12:13 am EST

Via shutdowncalculator.com

Note: We will keep this counter on the blog’s side bar until the federal government reopens. Thanks XX!  For those who do not like the name of this shutdown, please watch this “I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it” video before sending us a love letter.

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Trump Shutdown Day #24: Cartoonists Draw Insane Weeks For Federal Hostages

Posted: 12:52 am EST

Trump Shutdown Day #22: Longest Ever, Also Can “Better Off” Federal Hostages Eat Vacation Days?

 

Marking the 22nd day of the Trump Shutdown. This is now officially the longest government shutdown in history.

Also here is a White House official who need not worry about a paycheck, calling the current chaos and debacle on government workers’ lives as somehow putting them in a “better off” universe.

Trump Shutdown Day #21: Across America, Federal Hostages Are Hurting

Posted: 1:06 am EST

Today marks the 21st day of the Trump Shutdown, making it exactly as long as the 1995 Gingrich Shutdown, a 21-day shutdown which was apparently caused  by this pettiness: “Gingrich confessed he’d forced the closing of the federal government partly because Bill Clinton had relegated him to a rear cabin aboard Air Force One on the way home from Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral in Jerusalem.”

Then as now, the federal government furloughed 800,000 workers.

By Saturday, this sh*tshow, which somebody publicly said he is proud to own, will be the longest shutdown in history. Congress can do its duty as an equal branch of our government and pass a bill over the president’s objections and re-open the government. This requires a two-thirds vote in the House and in the Senate. A two-thirds supermajority in the Senate is 67 out of 100 senators, and  two-thirds supermajority in the House is 290 out of 435 representatives. The 116th Congress is now a 47 Democrat, 53 GOP split  in the Senate, while the House is 235 Democrat, 199 GOP. See the challenge there? But there is apparently already a bill to reopen the government, why won’t they call it on the floor for a vote? Is the leadership afraid that it will pass both houses, and the president would look worse when he vetoes it?

James Fallows writes: “On December 18, Mitch McConnell’s GOP-run Senate passed, on a unanimous voice vote, a “clean” funding measure, to keep the government open and postpone funding fights about “the wall.” They did so with guidance from the White House that Donald Trump would go along. Then the right-wing mocking began; then immediate funding for the wall became an “emergency”; then Trump preferred a shutdown to appearing to “lose.” Mitch McConnell’s GOP of course switched right along with him—and against the measure all of its members had supported just days ago. One man’s insecurity, and his party’s compliance, are disrupting millions of lives.”

Well, maybe some of these folks really believed that a 30-foot wall works over a 35-foot ladder or 30-feet tunnel or maybe all their spinal bones are just made of jello. The larger public may soon start to realize that these elected representatives do not much care for 800,000 of their fellow Americans and their families. Or care much for their fellow citizens and their families who rely on the people and services that make our government work. We’ve taken for granted that the checks and balances in our system works … but take a look.

As this shutdown continues, we are struck at the high tolerance for people and their families to be put in great hardship, all for a fucking wall that Mexico was supposed to pay.

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What happens after pay period #26?

Posted: 1:26 am EST

The State Department issued a thin Furlough Guidance Handbook to employees on January 4. It notes that State Department employees funded with no-year or multi-year accounts received their paychecks for pay period #25 on Thursday, January 3, 2019. Foreign Service annuitants received their December annuity payments on January 2, 2019 (Note that pension is not funded by annual Congressional appropriations but is drawn from the Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Fund). The Guidance says that State will also be able to make payroll for these employees for pay period #26 (actual pay date is January 17). What happens beyond that seems to be a big question mark beyond the nugget that CGFS will be issuing some future guidance.

Should the lapse in appropriations continue past the end of pay period 26 (January 5, 2019), the Bureau of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services (CGFS) intends to process payroll for pay period 26 to meet the Department’s Thursday, January 17, 2019 official pay date, for those individuals (both direct-hire employees and LE staff) who are funded using no-year or multi-year accounts that have residual balances. CGFS will be preparing and issuing T&A guidance for bureaus and posts for reporting time during any periods of lapse for pay period 26 and any later pay periods. Furloughed, excepted, and intermittent excepted employees who are not funded would not receive another pay check until there is legislation to permit payment.

01/04/19DS-5113 Agency Notice of Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees
01/04/19SF-8 Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees Program

We should note that a January 7 update to AFSA members flagged down a different date, which is this Friday, January 11:

In order to meet normal deadlines for processing payroll in time to meet the next payday on January 17, AFSA understands that funds need to be appropriated by Friday, January 11. The bill that funds operations at State and USAID passed the Senate Appropriations Committee in June by a 31-0 vote, but that bill has not yet gone before the full Senate. 
[…]
If that does not happen by the end of the week, however, some members of the Foreign Service (including some members who have been required to report to work) may not receive a paycheck on January 17. As a first step to preparing for that difficult possibility, members are encouraged to read the new Furlough Handbook to review options for coping with the financial consequences of the partial government shutdown.

Consular Affairs

An update on our query about Consular Affairs funding — we’ve heard from a source that CA/EX recently sent a notice to consular sections informing folks that the bureau “anticipates” being able to continue paying its staff and providing consular services as long as the funding situation with partner bureaus/agencies allowed them to continue providing service that generates revenue. Here are a couple of dire scenarios that have a potential to impact thousands of working people and their families, and not just within the State Department. 

If partner agencies are not able to do their work due to the ongoing funding lapse, it could have a potential to derail consular services. Think DHS or  FBI.  Visa services require that applicant fingerprints, photo and personal data be sent to DHS for the purpose of checking the applicant’s fingerprint information against DHS databases and establishing a record within DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification (IDENT) system. Visa issuance data is then forwarded to DHS for use at US ports of entry to verify the validity of the visa. Visa services also require the  transmission of  applicant fingerprints and personal data to the FBI fingerprint system for the purpose of checking to determine if the person has a criminal record that would have an effect on visa eligibility. If DHS and FBI stop providing those clearances, embassies and consulates won’t be able to issue visas worldwide. And that would have a cascading impact on services, fees collected, and employees getting paid.  Also if/when visa issuances stop, there will be economic consequences for the tourism, travel and hospitality industries. What’s that going to do to the international travelers spending in the United States, or travel industry employment, both direct and indirect employment?

We should note that DHS’s Automated Biometric Identification System or IDENT, is operated and maintained by OBIM (IDENT currently holds more than 200 million unique identities and processes more than 300,000 biometric transactions per day). OBIM resides in DHS’s Management Directorate. During the lapse in appropriations, the Directorate estimates 193 employees as the total number exempt/excepted employees to be retained out of a total of 1,777 employees. So they have people working over there but for how long? How long can people work with no pay?

Additionally, DOJ’s 2019 Contingency Plan says that “all FBI agents and support personnel in the field are considered excepted from furlough.” It also says that “At FBI headquarters, the excepted personnel will provide direction and investigative support to all field operations and excepted headquarters functions. This includes personnel in the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, which provides fingerprint identification services to criminal and national security investigations, and the Records Management Division, which provides name check services to criminal and national security investigations.”

Regarding partner bureaus — consular operations do not stand alone at overseas posts. They are not able to operate without security guards, typically locally hired security guards. Local guards are not under consular sections but under the purview of Regional Security Officers. They are funded under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security within the Worldwide Security Protection, an account that the State Department previously identified as “initially have [ing] available balances”. We don’t know how much available balances DS has, but when that account is depleted, there won’t be money to pay the local guards, and posts cannot just use comp time or issue IOUs. And if there are no local guards to provide this critical function, posts won’t be able to open their consular sections to the public. That will have a cascading effect on services provided, fees collected, employees getting paid, and beyond. 

Also below, the State Department furlough Q&A includes the following;

On jobs during furlough: May I look for a job during the furlough if that is required to apply for unemployment compensation in my state?

A. A furloughed employee may seek employment without advanced authorization and can provide to the unemployment office any evidence that he or she is in fact seeking employment. Some States require claimants be engaged in an active search for work to be eligible for unemployment compensation. Department employees are reminded that relevant ethics laws, rules, and regulations continue to apply to them while in furlough status, including restrictions on outside employment with non-federal entities. For example, Department employees employed by a non-Federal entity during the furlough may later be restricted from participating in their official capacity in matters that affect that entity. If you have specific questions about your potential employment, you can contact EthicsAttorneyMailbox@state.gov.

For presidential appointees and covered noncareer employees (e.g., both noncareer SES and SFS and certain Schedule C employees), there are certain restrictions on outside earned income. Employees who file a Public Financial Disclosure Report (OGE 278e) must also file a recusal notice at negotiationnotice@state.gov when negotiating outside employment.

If you have more specific questions not covered above, you can contact negotiationnotice@state.gov.

Injury while on furlough: If employees are injured while on furlough or LWOP, are they eligible for workers’ compensation?

A. No, workers’ compensation is paid to employees only if they are injured while performing their duties. Employees on furlough or LWOP are not in a duty status.

Can somebody please ask the State Department what happens to employees in war zones and high threat posts who may be injured during this shutdown?

Mental Health Resources:

MED’s Employee Consultation Services (ECS) office remains open with reduced staffing during the furlough. You can reach ECS at 703-812-2257 or email MEDECS@state.gov.FEDERAL

Medical Evacuation:

New medical evacuations and ongoing medevacs are considered excepted activities and will continue during the furlough.

Employee Health Benefits and Life Insurance: Will I still have coverage under the Federal Employee Health Benefits (FEHB) program during the furlough?

A. Yes, the employee’s FEHB coverage will continue even if an agency does not make the premium payments on time. Since the employee will be in a non-pay status, the enrollee share of the FEHB premium will accumulate and be withheld from pay upon return to pay status.

For Federal Employee Group Life Insurance (FEGLI), coverage continues for 12 consecutive months in a nonpay status without cost to the employee (5 CFR 870.508(a)) or to the agency (5 CFR 870.404(c)). Please note that premium payments are required if an enrolled employee in nonpay status is receiving workers’ compensation (5 CRF 870.508(a)).

 

Yo Wanna Spank Schumer But Not @Senatemajldr McConnell For Non-Confirmation of Ambassadors? Very Unfair!

It looks like the President of the United States is ending 2018 by ranting that “heads of countries” are calling and asking why Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer “is not approving their otherwise approved Ambassadors.” Well, first, to be clear, if they are really calling the WH asking about this, they would not be calling about “their otherwise approved ambassadors” because that would mean, these countries are calling about “their” ambassadors representing them in Washington. As far as we know, the U.S. Senate is not the entity that grants agrément for foreign diplomats to be appointed to the United States.

The president appears to be talking about U.S. Ambassadors nominated to foreign countries, which means, these are “our” ambassadors, and not these countries’ ambassadors even if they are assigned to these mysterious countries (whose “heads of countries” are um apparently “calling” and asking about stuff). If this is kinda confusing, try and imagine Saudi Arabia’s MBS or Turkey’s Erdogan calling the WH and asking what Schumer did to “their otherwise approved Ambassador” – that is, the Saudi Arabian and Turkish Ambassadors to the United States. They would not call the U.S. Ambassadors destined to their respective countries “their” ambassadors. We doubt if MBS would even call and ask what Schumer did to John Abizaid, Trump’s nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. Why would he? He got you know who. Would Erdogan call and ask what Schumer did to Trump’s nominee to be U.S. Ambassador to Turkey? He wouldn’t, cmon. There isn’t one.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1079830268708556800

Second, we should note that there are indeed multiple nominees pending on the Senate Calendar and waiting for their full Senate votes. Except for two nominations who are subjects to two Democratic Senate holds, the rest of the nominees have been waiting for GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put them up for a vote. Over the past year, the GOP appeared to prioritized the confirmation of judicial nominees. In the last 12 months, approximately 70 Judiciary nominees were confirmed while only about 47 State Department nominees were confirmed for the same duration (excluding USAID, UN, and Foreign Service lists).

We have a separate post on the nominations that are currently pending at the SFRC. We are anticipating that most of these nominees will be renominated at the beginning of the next Congress, and that most of them will probably get confirmation from the Senate given the GOP’s expanded majority in the 116th Congress. We don’t know how many more judicial nominees the GOP is planning to shovel through the confirmation process, however, but if there is a large enough number, those again could have an impact on the speed of confirmation for State Department nominees.

Below are the nominations pending in the Executive Calendar. May be there is a potential for the U.S. Senate to have mass confirmation of these nominations on January 2? You all can hope, right? We’ll have to wait and see. 

DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Carol Z. Perez, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of MinisterCounselor, to be Director General of the Foreign Service, vice Arnold A. Chacon, resigned.

Ellen E. McCarthy, of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Intelligence and Research), vice Daniel Bennett Smith.

Stephen Akard, of Indiana, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador, vice Gentry O. Smith, resigned.

AMBASSADORS (CAREER)

Lynne M. Tracy, of Ohio, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of MinisterCounselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Armenia.

Christopher Paul Henzel, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Yemen.

Sarah-Ann Lynch, of Maryland, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Co-operative Republic of Guyana

Earle D. Litzenberger, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Matthew John Matthews, of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Brunei Darussalam.

Michael S. Klecheski, of New York, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Minister-Counselor, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Mongolia.

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Trump Shutdown Officially On Over Border Wall Funding

It looks like Washington, D.C. is one real hotspot with ever brimming chaos these days. Folks who write those Real Post Reports should do one for the United States of America.

U.S. Senate votes to end U.S. support for #SaudiWar in #Yemen, condemns #KhashoggiMurder

OSC’s Hatch Act Guidance: No Advocacy For/Against Impeachment, No #Resist, #ResistTrump Use

 

On November 27, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) — not Robert Mueller’s but the federal agency with authorities to investigate cases related to the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, the Hatch Act, and the Uniformed Services Employment & Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) — issued a new guidance regarding political activity. It says that  its Hatch Act Unit has received several questions regarding whether the following constitute “political activity” for purposes of the Hatch Act:

1. Is strong criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions considered political activity?

Criticism or praise that is directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group is political activity. Absent evidence that the criticism or praise is so directed, criticism or praise of an administration’s policies and actions is not considered political activity. Whether a particular statement constitutes political activity depends upon the facts and circumstances.

Consider, for example, the administration’s recent decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. An employee who strongly criticizes or praises that decision during a workplace discussion with a colleague in the days immediately following the decision is less likely to be engaging in political activity than one making those same statements in the run-up to the next presidential election—when the decision will likely have been out of the news for several years—to a colleague that the employee knows has strong feelings about
the subject.

Read more here.

2. Is advocating for or against impeachment of a candidate for federal office considered political activity?

Yes. Read more here.

3. Is activity related to “the Resistance” considered political activity?

To the extent that the statement relates to resistance to President Donald J. Trump, usage of the terms “resistance,” “#resist,” and derivatives thereof is political activity. We understand that the “resistance” and “#resist” originally gained prominence shortly after President Trump’s election in 2016 and generally related to efforts to oppose administration policies. However, “resistance,” “#resist,” and similar terms have become inextricably linked with the electoral success (or failure) of the president. During the period when President Trump was not considered by OSC to be a candidate for reelection the terms did not raise any Hatch Act concerns. Now that President Trump is a candidate for reelection, we must presume that the use or display of “resistance,” “#resist,” “#resistTrump,” and similar statements is political activity unless the facts and circumstances indicate otherwise.

Note that this presumption is only relevant to employee conduct that takes place on duty, in the workplace, while wearing an agency uniform or insignia, or while invoking any official authority or influence. Provided that they comply with the Hatch Act’s restrictions, employees are free to engage in political activity while off-duty and away from the federal workplace.

In OSC’s example, if you tweet “I must #resist the temptation to eat another donut from the break room” – you would not/not be engaging in political activity but OSC would presume that “the use or display of the hashtags #resist and #resistTrump, in isolation, is political activity under the Hatch Act.”  Read in full here.

The thing is, Foreign Service folks are considered on duty 24/7, so what does this guidance means in the real world? We’ve asked the OSC; will update if we hear anything back.

You may also call the Hatch Act Unit at 202-804-7002 or send an e-mail to Hatchact@osc.gov  for your Hatch Act-related questions.

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Halloween 2018: A Great Day For Scaring Kids, Also a Frightful Time For All Else

 

ALSO IN FRIGHTFUL NEWS: The United States could deploy 7,000 armed troops to the US-Mexican border a week before Election Day. It could go up to 15,000, roughly what we have in Afghanistan and three times what the United States deployed to Iraq. Since Mexico refused to fund that wall, the President of the United States now says “”We have to have a wall of people”. Presumably, our friends to the south are not going to pay for this “wall of people” either, so U.S. taxpayers are already saddled with this tab. And since the deployment to the border number will likely kept growing the next few days, the Pentagon probably should ask how deep is this “wall of people” the Commander-in-Chief is talking about.

Meanwhile in Yemen, people have been dying the last three years. Now 14 million people face starvation as the U.S. government continue its military support of Saudi Arabia’s war (see Secretary Pompeo Saves $2Billion Weapons Sales From Jeopardy). USG is now seeking a cease-fire over there. Why now? Is it because half of Yemen’s population is on the brink of famine? Or is it because the world is finally paying attention to US-support of the war in Yemen after the Khashoggi murder?  Former USNATO Ambassador Robert Hunter writes that “blanket U.S. support for the Saudi air campaign means that it cannot escape its own share of responsibility.”

Also back in 2010, a State/OIG report estimated that the Yemeni-American community in that country was about 55,000. There were no USG-organized evacuations when war broke out. For those covering Yemen, please ask the Secretary of State his department’s estimate on how many Yemeni-Americans were killed in this war.

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