Metro Shuts Down Wednesday, OPM Allows Telework/Unscheduled Leave #Metropocalypse

Posted: 3:04 am EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]





State Dept’s Consular Database Problems Dash Plans, Dreams … Also Cost Up to $1M/Day in California

Posted: 4:46 pm  EDT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]


On June 12, we posted about the technical problems with the State Department’s overseas passport and visa systems.  Passport applications accepted overseas on or after May 26, 2015 are affected but emergency passports are available.  A hardware failure on June 9 halted the flow of biometric clearance requests from posts to the State Department’s Consular Consolidated Database (CCD). Individuals who submitted online applications or were interviewed for visas on or after June 9 are affected and are asked to reschedule appointments . No emergency visas available. See State Dept’s Overseas Passport and Visa Systems Hit By Glitch Again, Suspends Issuance.

On June 15, the Bureau of Consular Affairs posted the following update on its Facebook page but not on its news page:

We continue to experience technical problems with our visa systems. This issue is not specific to any particular country or visa category. We apologize for the inconvenience and we are working around the clock to correct the problem. Currently, we are unable to print most immigrant and nonimmigrant visas approved after June 8, 2015. In addition, U.S. embassies and consulates are unable to process new applications submitted on or after June 9, 2015. If you have a visa interview appointment scheduled for June 14-20, 2015, and you submitted your DS-160 online application **after June 9, 2015,** you should reschedule your appointment. If you submitted your DS-160 online application prior to June 9, 2015, you should plan to attend your scheduled visa interview appointment. Our embassies and consulates will be posting location-specific information on their websites, so please check the website of the location where you applied for your visa for more information. 

The technical issues also affected the Department of State’s ability to adjudicate applications for U.S. passports accepted overseas between May 26 and June 14, 2015. If you applied for a U.S. passport overseas during this time frame and have travel plans within the next 10 business days, please consider requesting an emergency passport at the U.S. embassy or consulate at which you originally applied. Information about how to apply for an emergency passport is available on the embassy/consulate website.

The previous time the CCD crashed big time was last summer (see State Dept’s Critical National Security Database Crashes, Melts Global Travelers’ Patience).  It could just be a coincidence (or not!) but the crash has now happened twice during the peak travel season. During the meltdown last summer, CA said that CCD was going to have an upgrade at the end of 2014. It also  said at that time that the upgrade plan included two redundant systems. If this glitch started on May 26th, we’re approaching the three week-mark. And so far, those redundant systems are missing in action.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs on its FAQ states that “This is not the same issue as last year.” But we learned from an unofficial source that “All line officers know that last summer’s CCD glitch was never completely fixed.” 

So, which is it?

On June 15, the Wall Street Journal reported that the CCD glitch has left agricultural workers stranded at the border just as the summer harvest gets under way. Jason Resnick, the general counsel for the Western Growers Association, which represents farmers in California, Arizona and Colorado calls this glitch, “a crisis.” Apparently, more than 1,000 workers who expected H-2A agricultural visas are stuck on the Mexican side of the border, where motels are overflowing.

“The workers are overdue to start harvesting berries and other crops on U.S. farms. Mr. Resnick estimated that California agriculture, already stressed by drought, is losing $500,000 to $1 million for each day of delay.”


The State Department’s consular operation is an enormous one with many parts and affects a large number of travelers.  The State Department issued 9,932,480 nonimmigrant/temporary visas in FY2014. It issued 467,370 immigrant/permanent visas in FY2014. During the same period, domestic and overseas passport offices issued 14,087,341 U.S. passports (including 1,463,191 passport cards).

A small fraction of those frustrated travelers have taken to Facebook to connect with Consular Affairs.

One who is stuck in Canada and could not return to her 14th month old baby writes:

Hi, do you have any timeline to fix the issues? I live in Boston, US & visited Vancouver, BC consulate on June 10th for my visa interview. visa officer told me that your visa is approved and you will get your passport back in 3 days. However, since June 10th, there is no update on my visa. I also inquired with Vancouver Consulate and they are ready to give me passport back without visa. As a matter of fact, I can’t enter into US legally until and unless I got printed Visa. My 14th month baby is waiting in Boston,MA and I got stuck here. Can’t do anything.

Here’s one waiting to be reunited with a loved one after a long wait:

Waiting is excruciating my husband was approved on june 10th and my mother has passed away. We need him home please get this fixed our application has been in since 2013.

Somebody who is pregnant, stuck in Mexico writes:

I am currently 8 months pregnant and have been waiting for my TD visa renewal since mid May. Since I will soon have travel restrictions to fly back home, does this qualify as an urgent humanitarian situation where I should contact the embassy in Mexico directly?

One who missed grandma’s funeral makes a plea:”

Can you tell us a estimated time??? My case was expedited and I miss my Grandmother funeral. Me and my wife were supposed to travel yesterday. Please get this fixed.please

A family stuck in Mexico:

Do you have an ETA in order for ys to plan accordingly? I had my appointment on friday june 12th and I am stuck in Mexico (H1B renewal) without passport and without the ability to get back to work in Boston. Flight fees, hotel fees and a family of 4 that needs to get back to Boston.

Some people missing a convention:

My wife and I have a flight to ny tom. Our visa were approved on 9th. We are part of 100+ group attending a convention. Do we expect to get our passports with visas today?

Somebody stuck in Guatemala, fears loss of a job:

All my documents were in order and approved June 1st. my husband and I are in a dire situation stuck in Guatemala. I’m at risk of losing my job if I don’t return to USA.

A frustrated somebody who calls out other technical issues:

There’s always something wrong. There are already technical issues with payment of IV fees, DS260 and DS261. This system needs to be revamped. What’s the government doing about this?!

A Romanian group who worked and saved to attend the Genius Olympiad:

We are desperate. We have a plane ticker for tomorrow and we were supposed to go to an international competition (Genius Olympiad) in Oswego, NYC. Apart from the part that we lost thousands of dollars, our hopes got crashed because we worked for a year at our projects and invested a lot of time and monney… For… Nothing?!?!?! How come you have no plan B for solving this issue? We tried making an appointment more than one month ago and they said on the 9th on june will be our interview, we said it s too late for us but they said that the visa will be delivered within 2 days maximum. And here we are 5 days later with no visas, with crashed hopes, tons of lost monney, wasted time… Should i go on??


US Embassy Libya: To Restrict Personnel to Essential Travel, Closes From October 13-17

— By Domani Spero

On October 9, the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli issued a security message to Americans in Libya reminding the need for caution, and announcing plans to restrict personnel movement to “essential” travel only and closure of the embassy during U.S. and Libyan holidays from October 13-17, 2013. October 14, Monday is Columbus Day and The Day of Arafa; October 15-17 is Eid ul Adha (Feast of Sacrifice).

The U.S. Embassy in Libya reminds U.S. citizens of the need for caution and awareness of personal security following the October 5 detainment of a Libyan national by U.S. military authorities.  The embassy is aware of public statements threatening the kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Libya, but has no specific information about these threats.  The embassy plans to restrict movement of embassy personnel to essential travel only and will be closed in observance of American and Libyan holidays from October 13-17.  The embassy will reopen for normal operations on Sunday, October 20.  American Citizen Services will be offered during normal hours on October 9.  Review your personal security plans; remain aware of your surroundings, including local events; and monitor local news stations for updates. Maintain a high level of vigilance, take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security and follow instructions of local authorities.

On October 5, American forces in Tripoli captured Abu Anas al-Liby, a Libyan militant who had been indicted in 2000 for his role in the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. (No matter how long it takes …. 5,533 days after the East Africa embassy bombings …).

Via the NYT, October 7:

For months, a swelling team of federal investigators, intelligence agents and Marines waited behind the barbed wire and gun turrets of the fortified compound around the United States Embassy here, aware of suspected terrorists at large in the streets — including suspects in the killing last year of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi — and increasingly frustrated at the inability of the weak Libyan government to move against them.

Now, with the Abu Anas raid, the Obama administration has signaled a limit to its patience. Two years after the United States backed the NATO intervention that removed Qaddafi, Washington has demonstrated a new willingness to pursue its targets directly, an action that has now prompted some of those suspected in Ambassador Stevens’s death to go into hiding, people here said.
The streets of Tripoli were quiet on Sunday night, with no major protests against the arrest or attacks on American interests. But in just a few hours about 2,000 Libyans had signed into a new Facebook page proclaiming solidarity with Abu Anas, who was born Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai. “We are all Nazih al-Ruqai, O America,” it was called.

One comment read: “The real Libyan hero rebels should kidnap an American in Libya to negotiate for our brother Ruqai’s release. It is a shame on us and all Libyans. The Americans entered Tripoli with their commandos and they kidnapped our son while we were standing watching.”

Libya has been a “danger pay” post since July 15, 2012.  This latest incident will inevitably increase the potential for retaliatory attacks not just for the embassy but other western interests in the country.

On October 8, CNN reported that 200 heavily armed U.S. Marines headed to an Italian naval base, poised to fly at a moment’s notice to Libya should the U.S. Embassy come under assault from angry crowds in the wake of al Liby’s capture.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the chaos continue. The United States will hit the debt ceiling of $16.7 trillion on or around October 17.  Politicians continue with their brainless jaw-jaw before the cameras.  By the time the embassy reopens on October 20, Uncle Sam may not have anything left but socks and underwear, and pols with their useless pointed fingers blaming each other.








State Department’s Shutdown and Furlough Updates

— By Domani Spero


In the October 2 Daily Press Briefing, the State Department officially identified two offices that do not have “carryover funds” and were immediately impacted by the shutdown:  the Office of the Inspector General, and the International Boundary and Water Commission.

The Office of the Inspector General (State/OIG) Inspection branch has approximately 65 employees; adding that to the number of staffers from Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX, amounts to approximately 200 total employees according to two sources.  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 are unable to locate a separate Absence of Appropriation Plan for the IG office. State’s September 27 Guidance on Operations During a Lapse in Appropriations is here.

On September 27, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) published its own guide on IBWC operations during a lapse in appropriations. The IBWC traces its roots to the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Treaty of 1853, which established temporary joint commissions to survey, map, and demarcate with ground landmarks the new United States (U.S.) – Mexico boundary.

Its shutdown guide indicates that  “operations department will continue to operate critical functions at the San Diego, CA and Nogales, AZ International Wastewater Treatment Plants; Falcon Dam and Falcon Power Plant; Amistad Dam and Amistad Power Plant. These operations require 24/7 operations to ensure the safety of lives and property in these regions. Water delivery and accounting operations will continue at Falcon Dam, Amistad Dam, Anzalduas Dam, Retamal Dam, and American Dam in compliance with 1944 and 1906 water treaty obligations. Oversight of flood control operations is also required of the Upper and Lower Rio Grande Flood Control systems to manage the potential of floods events.” 

The interesting thing about the IBWC guide is it also includes a roster of “excepted” employees during the furlough effective October 1, 2013 12:01 AM EDT that includes names, titles, divisions and emergency contact numbers. We don’t know how many IBWC employees had been furloughed but about 180 employees have been designated “excepted.”

As of 3:30 pm on October 2, AFSA reported that bureaus, with the exception of the OIG, have not notified any employees of their excepted/non-excepted status.  USAID similarly is relying on multi-year funds to sustain operations. Furloughs, however, are in effect at Department of Commerce HQ and domestic posts; chiefs of mission determine excepted/non-excepted status at post. Furloughs are also in effect at Department of Agriculture (FAS and APHIS) HQ and domestic posts; chiefs of mission determine excepted/non-excepted status at post. At the BBG, all overseas broadcasting efforts have been deemed essential.  About 600 employees had been furloughed out of a total staff of 1600.

Now to the official State Department update via the Daily Press Briefing with Marie Harf, the Deputy Spokesperson on October 2, 2013:

QUESTION: So do you have any more update on the shutdown’s effects on the State Department, furloughs for example, or any kind of information you give us on these programs that are funded for one year and —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — which ones might be affected?

MS. HARF: Yeah, absolutely. So no update on furloughs; we’re in the same place we’ve been on that for the last few days. I know Jen’s talked about it a lot.

In terms of programs that are impacted immediately and one-year funding, I have a couple of examples here. There – and again, as we’ve talked about, these offices do not have the available carryover funds to sustain operations and don’t have other sources of operating funds like fees, as we’ve talked about with passports and visas. Some of these offices include the Office of the Inspector General, the International Boundary and Water Commission. Certain Department of State accounts with only single-year direct appropriations also include contributions to international organizations – not all of them but some of them. There’s also an impact on our foreign military funding. I know we’ve talked a lot about FMF in here. In the absence of a continuing resolution, we have no FY14 Foreign Military Financing, International Military Education [and Training], or Peacekeeping Operations funds to obligate.

So for example – I’ll just give you one example – FY 2014 security assistance funding for Israel will be delayed until a continuing resolution or until full-year appropriation is passed. The State Department’s ability to provide military assistance to Israel and other allies in the timeframe that is expected and customary could be hindered depending on the length of the shutdown. So while there are no furloughs, it’s not just business as usual, and there are programs, certainly, that are affected and which all could be up and running again if Congress could get some business done. 
QUESTION: I just wanted to see if you could give us a little bit more detail. A couple of days ago, Jen was saying the number crunchers were looking at what funds are available, what’s in, what’s out. Can you just give us an idea, do they kind of know in advance what’s out there, because obviously, you deal with budgets all the time, or is it they are sitting up on a floor up there looking at things as we’re speaking and saying, “No, we can’t afford that; we can’t afford this”? What – behind the scenes, what do they do?

MS. HARF: Right. Well, obviously, we have a picture of what our resources look like, right? So Jen has talked about this a lot in terms of the fact that we haven’t had to furlough yet, which is – for most of our employees, which is a good thing. But I think the longer this goes on, every day that the government is shut down, we have to take a look at the numbers and we have to take a hard look at competing priorities and our programs around the world. And every day that this goes on longer, there will be things we can’t do. There will be ways that we cannot go overseas and promote our interests.
QUESTION: Regarding these furloughs and people who are – federal employees that they are going to be affected by – which the number – I mean, it’s like, in the last two or three days, they are saying about 800,000 people.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Do you have an – I mean, I know it’s a big number and it’s an unspecified number. Do you have, somehow, a round figure of how many people would be affected with the State Department or its —

MS. HARF: I don’t, and I can look into that and see if there’s more specific numbers I can get to you. As you all know, we’ve talked about for the last few days that we have a specific funding mechanism that has allowed us to continue without the massive furloughs that we’ve seen elsewhere, but I can look into if there are specific numbers going forward. Hopefully, we won’t get to that point.
QUESTION: In terms of the Office of Inspector General and the Boundary and Water, and all that —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — how were they affected?

MS. HARF: How were they – well, you asked about offices that were impacted immediately under one-year funding.


MS. HARF: So offices that operate with this one-year funding that does not have available carryover funds, they’ve been notified that they have to cease operations.

QUESTION: So that doesn’t affect – that doesn’t mean there’s furloughs?

MS. HARF: I can check on that, on furloughs for you. In terms of these very small number of employees, there may, in fact, be. I think we’ve said for the last few days that we – most of our employees are not affected by furloughs at this point. There may be some in these offices. So I’ll check on that.


MS. HARF: And I can check if there are numbers available. I just don’t know.



Shutdown News: State Department Stays Open and Operational. For Now.

— 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.

Screen Shot 2013-08-12

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.


US Congress on Super Stoopid Ride: Saving $16 Million at a Cost of $364 Million

As if the debt ceiling theater was not badly scripted and terribly acted enough. 

Congress went on vacay even as the partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration deactivated some 74,000 employees (FAA, construction workers, etc) and resulted in a loss to the U.S. Treasury of some $30 million a day.

The CSMonitor reports on the newly announced deal that is good until next month when Congress returns to do a cha-cha:

Funding for the FAA expired on July 23, following nearly four years of short-term extensions. Both the House and the Senate have passed long-term FAA funding bills that clashed on partisan and parochial issues, such as rules that make it tougher to organize unions and subsidies to rural airports.

Since members of the House have already left town, the deal involves the Senate’s passing of a House measure extending funding for the FAA through Sept. 16, in a vote expected on Friday. The agreement also frees up $2.5 billion in federal grants for delayed construction projects. Congress will return to the outstanding issues in September.

Well, that’s dumb, okay, but here is what’s even more stupid, as stupid does it in Washington, D.C. Congress was trying to save money by defunding rural airports at the tune of $16 million. Funding for FAA expired on July 23, at a cost of some $30 million a day in lost revenue to the U.S. Treasury. So our elected representatives in Congress, so wise and smart managed to saved $16 million at a cost of $364 million in lost fees in the last couple of weeks.

In what other universe is this type of stupidity acceptable?

Dear U.S. Congress, the Chinese are falling off their chairs laughing at all of us, and why not?!  With this kind of elected representatives, what else can possibly go wrong? 


Projected Shutdown Cost: Over $65 Million Per Week of Lost Revenue in Passports & Visas

A B1/B2 visa to the United StatesImage via Wikipedia

Our heroes in Congress averted the almost certain government shutdown at high midnight this past Friday, crafting an agreement with just 120 minutes to spare to keep the wheels of government running.  Although that is over now, the budget fight is just heating up and a shutdown is still possible over the debt ceiling and over the 2012 budget showdown.     

The State Department in its statement on the preparation for possible government shutdown said that routine visas will not/not be issued and that “consular officers around the world routinely adjudicate approximately 200,000 applications each week” (includes issuances and refusals.)

You know, the State Dept has publicly available stats on visa issuance by country, but almost never publicly acknowledge its refusal numbers.  So at least out of this, we now know that the US Government processes approximately 200,000 visa applications per week. That includes applications for tourist and business visas, student and exchange visitors, as well as crew members of airline, ships and transit visas through the United States.  Multiply 200,000 visa applications with $140.00 a pop for the regular visa application fee (other visa type fees range from $150 – $2,250.00) and you get about $28,000,000.00 per week that won’t go to the US Treasury, in the event of a shutdown.

So — that’s about $5.6 million daily loss of visa revenue if consular sections worldwide stop visa operations for a day.  $112,000,000.00 for four weeks of non-visa operation.  And $1.456 billion lost to the treasury for 52 week of government shutdown.  I should note that this is “almost” enough but not quite to run the annual operation of our US Embassy in Baghdad.

And we call visa operations non-essential.

In 2010, nearly 14 million passports were also issued, the third highest annual total in the history of the State Department. It was more than double the number in 1995, when we had that other exciting shutdown and blizzard. At $140 per passport, that was a  $1.96 billion addition to the US Treasury last year. A week of non-passport operation means $37.69 million of lost revenue. A month of shutdown means $150.8 million of lost revenue.  This comes out to a daily loss of $7.5 million in passport revenue based on last year’s passport numbers.

It’s not grandma’s consular operations, anymore.  But, hey! It’s not like the U.S. Treasury needs the money.

If you already have a personal emergency plan in the event of a government shutdown, stick to it; this is going to get rougher.

Congress Govt Shutdown Averted by Cowardly Reps Who Will Do This Again, and Again in the Near Future

Oops, the original blog title had the word shitdown. Noooooo, we I mean shutdown with a “u”…darn that interfering “i”!

So — the U.S. Federal Government will open as usual tomorrow.  The government shutdown was averted at the very last hour by adept negotiations of folks who allowed it to reach the brink in the first place. Thanks all around, eh? But you know, if they all did their jobs in the first place, we won’t have had that nail biter close to midnight on Friday night.

Thank Congress for spiking the blood pressure of many! Don’t worry, you’ll get back a canned letter talking about Libya!

Apparently, it’s good living on the edge. Oh, the rush and great press, too. Why sit down and do real work when you can be all drama in front of the tee-vee all day and all night talking about, ahem, yourself and your hard work on behalf of the American people?  

And this is not like, the end, of course. There’s the debt ceiling fight coming up in a few short weeks, then the 2012 budget fight coming up with the Ryan budget proposing cuts in the international affairs and foreign assistance by 29 percent in 2012 and 44 percent by 2016.  All while increasing the defense budget by 14 percent over the same time. Read more here.

Have your sigh of relief now while you can.  We all might run out of nails to bite this spring and summer as the budget battles heat up.  As if we really need any more excitement to our already temperamental and wild weather this year.  And it’s only April. But that’s the way it supposedly goes in this land of ours. 

Many times this past weeks, watching the news was just disgusting bizness. I’ve actually ran out of words to describe such juvenile antics among our elected representatives.  Sugar high, check. Self-interest, check. Kids not playing nice in the playground, check.  Throw out the tee-vee — almost did that, too, until I realized I could not afford a new tee-vee with clowns in it.

Here is NYT’s Kristof calling our Congress, cowardly and junior high in the same piece. Oh, righto, dat, too, but seems mighty unfair to junior high folks.

Our Cowardly Congress
By Nicholas D. Kristof

This isn’t government we’re watching; this is junior high.

It’s unclear where the adults are, but they don’t seem to be in Washington. Beyond the malice of the threat to shut down the federal government, averted only at the last minute on Friday night, it’s painful how vapid the discourse is and how incompetent and cowardly our leaders have proved to be.
Democrats excoriated Republicans for threatening to shut down the government, but this mess is a consequence of the Democrats’ own failure to ensure a full year’s funding last year when they controlled both houses of Congress.

That’s when the budget should have been passed, before the fiscal year began on Oct. 1. But the Democrats were terror-stricken at the thought of approving spending bills that Republicans would criticize. So in gross dereliction of duty, the Democrats punted.

 Republicans say they’re trying to curb government spending and rescue the economy — but they threatened to shut down the government, even though that would have been both expensive and damaging to our economy.

The shutdowns in late 1995 and early 1996 cost the federal government more than $1.4 billion, the Office of Management and Budget reported at the time. Much of that sum was for salaries repaid afterward for work that employees never did because they were on furlough. There were also lost fees at national parks and museums: tigers must be fed at the zoo, even if nobody is paying to see them.
What does all this mean? That we’re governed by self-absorbed, reckless children. Further evidence comes from a new study showing that American senators devote 27 percent of their press releases to “partisan taunts” rather than substance. “Partisan taunting seems to play a central role in the behavior of many senators,” declared the study, by Justin Grimmer of Stanford and Gary King of Harvard.

A bewildered Chinese friend asked me how the world’s leading democracy could be so mismanaged that it could shut down. I couldn’t explain. This budget war reflects inanity, incompetence and cowardice that are sadly inexplicable.

Read in full here.

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