Snapshot: Personnel Furlough Terms – Excepted, Exempt, Emergency, Essential

Posted: 12:58 am EST

Via CRS:

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#TrumpShutdown Enters 18th Day, At Least $2.5B in Costs and Counting, With No End in Sight

Posted: 2:38 am PST

On January 3, the Democratic-led House passed spending bills with a handful of Republicans joining them to reopen the government without funds for the border wall. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said repeatedly that he won’t bring the measures up for a vote even if similar legislations made it through the Senate a couple of weeks ago. Those bills were indeed DOA in the Senate, which means, this shutdown will go on and on for now.

Three weeks ago when the shutdown started the State Department issued a notice that required the agency to “immediately commence shutdown procedures.”  The exceptions being those accounts that “initially have available balances” and the employees worldwide working in those funded entities supposedly were informed to continue to report to work.

Accounts subject to lapse in appropriation:

Diplomatic and Consular Programs
Office of the Inspector General
International Boundary and Water Commission Salary and Expenses
American Sections (Note: your blogger doesn’t know what this includes)

Accounts not subject to lapse in appropriation:

Worldwide Security Protection (Covers all DS and 90+ security positions in other bureaus)

Diplomatic Security
Bureau of Medical Services: Directorate of Operational Medicine
Bureau of Administration: Office of Emergency Management

Consular and Border Security Program (Covers all of CA and other consular support personnel)

International Cooperative Administrative Support Services (ICASS)

State Working Capital Fund services

Embassy, Security, Construction, and Maintenance (Covers all of OBO)

Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs

American Institute in Taiwan

Global Health (S/GAC & PEPFAR)

International Narcotics and Law Enforcement

Migration and Refugee Assistance

The announcement also notes that the employees excepted list is subject to change, which could lead to additional employees receiving furlough notices “if the lapse is expected to continue.” 

We understand that Diplomatic Security is already urging the “prudent use of overtime” to slow down the drawdown of its residual funding. No one is talking about it yet, but how long will the State Department continue to pay for its local employees including guards at 277 overseas posts without regular funding? How long will those “initial balances” last? State Department furlough guidelines says that standard procedures to process local employee staff payroll must be followed and that under no circumstances should alternate means be used to pay LE staff salaries, such as using petty cash. What are they going to do with contract guards? 

The State Department’s school, the Foreign Service Institute (FSI)is now closed to all students for the duration of the furlough period. The closure apparently also includes its online student portal. At least one small government contractor at FSI has laid off people just in the last 48 hours. Several dozen employees were affected. Family members working as contractors or subcontractors are affected. If this shutdown continues, married couples working for Uncle Sam and or government contractors will suffer a double whammy — one partner is laid off, and the other partner is working with no pay (this is not to say that single employees do not have bills and loans to pay, because they do, too).  There are also couples working for Uncle Sam as tandem, and both partners are considered “essential” with no pay. And what about one-income FS  families where a significant portion of spouses are not employed/could not get employed overseas?  This is not the first government shutdown, of course, but this is perhaps the most worrisome (until the next one) simply because of erratic pronouncements at the top, and a president who threatens to drag this out “for months or even years.”

The State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations whose mission is “to provide safe, secure and functional facilities” for overseas mission is said to be running low on fuel. If OBO which typically has “no-year” funding is in trouble, that could mean a whole lot of the entities that initially had “available balances” may also be running into problems as the shutdown enters its third week. OBO has several ongoing projects overseas including 53 projects now in design or under construction. Furlough guidance states that OBO may “continue previously awarded construction and renovation projects for which adequate funds were obligated unless adequate supervision cannot be provided, in which case consider suspension of work if contractually permitted and practically feasible.” 

Diplomatic Post Offices are reportedly not affected by the shutdown at this time, but we’re hearing that the situation will not be the same if the shutdown is not lifted by the end of January. 

Remember the non-emergency personnel and family members evacuated from the US Embassy Kinshasa in December? The evacuees arrived in the DC area just before the shutdown and are now on furlough, too. Guess who’s processing their evacuation vouchers? Nobody. 

The agency shutdown guidelines also says that “Reassignment of personnel already planned may be continued, such as Permanent Changes of Station (PCS), only if funds have been previously obligated.” A host of nominees were just confirmed by the U.S. Senate recently but since no one knows for sure who will be confirmed, we don’t know how travel and relocation funds could have been appropriated ahead of time.Posts may see their new ambassadors soon, or they may not. One source told us that no one is getting orders or travel authorizations at this time. Can somebody please give us a confirmation on this?

We’re also now hearing talks about Consular Affairs’ funding issue, which is largely a self-funded operation, so help us out here — we’re perplexed about that. How is it running out of funds when its funding is not congressionally appropriated?  

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Snapshot: Appropriations Funding Gaps, FY1977-FY2014

Posted: 10:15 pm PST

Via CRS:

The federal government shutdown is now on its third week, and at the 18th day, it is now the second longest since 1977. In three days, it will be as long as the Gingrich Shutdown in 1995 which lasted for 21 days. If the government is not reopened by this Friday, the Trump Shutdown will become the longest shutdown in over 40 years.  Quick call Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (touting his clout in DC) or tweet to @senatemajldr felicitations and congratulations for his exceptional non-adherence to the Framers’ system of checks and balances at this bonkers moment in history.

@StateDept’s Passport Services Remain Open During Lapse of Appropriations

On January 2, Consular Affairs announced that its passport services remain open to process passport applications during the lapse of appropriations:

We continue to offer passport services during the lapse of appropriations for the federal government.

You can still apply for a U.S. passport book or passport card at all passport agencies and centers and acceptance facilities (such as U.S. post offices, libraries, or county clerk’s offices) during the lapse of appropriations. You can also renew your passport by mail. Our processing times remain the same: 4-6 weeks for routine service and 2-3 weeks for expedited service.

If you have a scheduled appointment at a U.S. Department of State passport agency or center, please plan on keeping your appointment. If you need to cancel your appointment, you may do so by visiting the Online Passport Appointment System or by calling 1-877-487-2778. If you have a scheduled appointment at a passport acceptance facility and need to cancel your appointment, please contact the facility directly.

We will update this notice if there is a change in passport services during the lapse in appropriations.


OPM Sample Letters to Creditors During Furlough Have Been Around At Least Since 2013

The sample letters to creditors issued by OPM is available here.
Or click Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [85.5 KB]

We understand that the OPM sample letters to creditors during the furlough are actually driving some of our readers “insane.” This blogpost is for you. The first Wayback Machine capture of opm.gov was January 23, 2013. You will note that the website does not include sample letters to creditors. But there was a shutdown on Tuesday, October 1, 2013, which lasted for 16 days. A December 31, 2013 capture of opm.gov includes a longer Furlough Guidance including Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [49.87 KB]. The four-page document includes a cover page titled, “Sample Letters”, and three temple template letters to creditor, mortgage company, and landlord.

In December 2016, OPM similarly had undated issued a Sample Letters for Creditors, Mortgage Companies and Landlords (Word file) [85.5 KB] online. This document includes basically identical sample letters from 2013. The sample letters issued by OPM on December 27, right to that note about consulting “your personal attorney” is identical to the 2013 and 2016 versions. There were other government shutdowns prior to 2013, but the Wayback Machine does not include any opm.gov archive before 2013. It is possible that these letters existed prior to 2013 and they were just not archived online or they may have been created first in 2013 during the October 2013 shutdown to assist federal employees who encountered problems with creditors, mortgage companies, and landlords during a two-week shutdown. If you were at OPM or OMB and was nerdy enough to follow this in 2013, let us know.

OPM’s current version of the sample letters, although not marked as an update in the OPM website, removed the reference to a “personal attorney” and now just says “Following are sample letters that you may use as a guide when working with your creditors.  OPM is not able to provide legal advice to individual employees.”  This version is still four pages long but, it appears that OPM had also removed the last letter, the “Sample Letter to Landlord” and page 4 is now just an empty page. The Landlord sample letter includes the item about “the possibility of trading my services to perform maintenance (e.g. painting, carpentry work) in exchange for partial rent payments” which garnered a lot of attention on social media.

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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.

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

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

 

 

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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 travel.state.gov 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??

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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.

(~o~)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

QUESTION: Right.

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.

QUESTION: Okay.

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

Mm-hmm.

(ô_ô)