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.

Pompeo says “morale is good”. C’mon now, it’s swaggeryfuck good!

We’re intentionally using our 12-letter curse word instead of the shorter one.  We’ll wash our mouth and keyboard with Lifebuoy soap for eight seconds longer after we have this up. You’re welcome.

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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)).

 

#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.

Gabonese Military Stages Coup Attempt in Libreville

Posted: 12:49 AM PST
Updated: 1:06 AM PST
Updated: 10:30 AM PST

Reuters is reporting that Gabon has thwarted the attempted coup and the government has killed or arrested the plotters. On January 7, U.S. Embassy Libreville in Gabon posted four Security Alerts on the embassy’s website. The first one warns of “possible anti-government military activity underway.” The second alert says “Embassy has advised the family members of U.S. citizen employees and local staff members to remain in their homes today.  Out of an abundance of caution as we further assess the situation, the Embassy has asked the families of U.S. citizen employees to keep their children at home from school tomorrow.” The third alert says “The Embassy has advised local staff members to remain at home.  U.S. Citizen employees have been told to avoid the downtown area.” The fourth, and latest alert posted as of this writing includes the following:

In light of recent anti-government activity, the U.S. Embassy has requested that Embassy personnel restrict their movements to the area north of Léon-Mba International Airport from dusk tonight until dawn tomorrow.  Embassy personnel and their families are advised to continue to exercise increased caution tomorrow by avoiding the downtown area and limiting unnecessary travel. Although the Léon-Mba International Airport is open at this time, a number of flights have been cancelled. Those who plan to travel in the next few days should contact the airport or their airline to confirm flight status.

The Security Alerts are posted on the embassy’s website but none are posted on Twitter or Facebook. Best we could tell @TravelGov has posted all the alerts here but only the second Security Alert on Twitter. The main State Department account @StateDept has not posted any of the Alerts. 

Website U.S. Embassy Libreville Gabon+241 0145 7100
Email: librevilleacs@state.gov
State Department – Consular Affairs: 888-477-4747 or 202-501-4444

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On January 4, the Trump Administration notified Congress of U.S. troop deployment to Libreville, Gabon, in anticipation of potential security requirement at the US Embassy Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (see Military Personnel Deploys to Gabon in Support of US Embassy Kinshasa Security #DRC).

Early Monday morning, Gabonese soldiers appeared on state television announcing a coup in the West African country. Tanks and armed vehicles are reportedly in the streets of the capital, Libreville and a curfew has been imposed. The Internet has reportedly been shutdown. As of this writing there are no alerts, emergency message, or security updates from the U.S. Embassy Libreville (embassy last posted on Twitter and FB the day before the shutdown). There is no update from @StateDept. The Gabon situation is developing.

Regional Map with Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo

Regional Map with Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Senate Returns @StateDept Nominations to the President

Updated: Jan 5, 5:19 pm PST

Prior to adjournment of the 115th Congress, the U.S. Senate returned the following State Department and related agencies’ nominations to the President under its Senate Rule. Note that some of the links posted from the floor activity site are not working on the congress.gov website as it changes to the current congress. We’re leaving the links “as is” on purpose should readers want to search the nomination on the congress.gov site. Use the radio button to select “Nomination” and enter the PN number on the search bar to see additional details for each nomination.

We anticipate that most of these nominees will be renominated. Will do a follow-up post when it happens.

STATE DEPARTMENT

PN2139: Brian J. Bulatao, of Texas, to be an Under Secretary of State (Management)– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN2444: Marshall Billingslea, of Virginia, to be an Under Secretary of State (Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights)– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate
PN1762: Stephen Akard, of Indiana, to be Director of the Office of Foreign Missions, with the rank of Ambassador– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN1769: David Schenker, of New Jersey, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Near Eastern Affairs)– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN2580: David Stilwell, of Hawaii, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (East Asian and Pacific Affairs)– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN2207: Robert A. Destro, of Virginia, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN2232: R. Clarke Cooper, of Florida, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Political-Military Affairs)– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN2029: Ronald Mortensen, of Utah, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Population, Refugees, and Migration)– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.

AMBASSADORS

PN1379: Leandro Rizzuto, of New Jersey, to be Ambassador to Barbados, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN1384: Doug Manchester, of California, to be Ambassador to the Commonwealth of The Bahamas– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN1768: Kenneth S. George, of Texas, to be Ambassador to the Oriental Republic of Uruguay– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN1638: Joseph Cella, of Michigan, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Fiji, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador to the Republic of Kiribati, the Republic of Nauru, the Kingdom of Tonga, and Tuvalu– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.
PN2021: John Rakolta, Jr., of Michigan, to be Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates– Returned to the President under the provisions of Senate Rule XXXI, paragraph 6 of the Standing Rules of the Senate.

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Military Personnel Deploys to Gabon in Support of US Embassy Kinshasa Security #DRC

On December 14, 2018, the State Department issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) urging American travelers to reconsider travel there due to “crime and civil unrest.” The advisory also announced that the Embassy’s non-emergency personnel and their family members were on mandatory evacuation order. See US Embassy Kinshasa on Ordered Departure For Non-Emergency Staff/Family Members #DRC

On January 4, the president notified Congress of the deployment of approximately 80 Armed Forces personnel to Gabon in support of the security of the US Embassy in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Excerpt below:

United States Armed Forces personnel have deployed to Libreville, Gabon, to be in position to support the security of United States citizens, personnel, and diplomatic facilities in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This deployment of approximately 80 personnel is in response to the possibility that violent demonstrations may occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in reaction to the December 30, 2018, elections there.  The first of these personnel arrived in Gabon on January 2, 2019, with appropriate combat equipment and supported by military aircraft.  Additional forces may deploy to Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or the Republic of the Congo, if necessary for these purposes.  These deployed personnel will remain in the region until the security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo becomes such that their presence is no longer needed.

This action was taken consistent with my responsibility to protect United States citizens both at home and abroad, and in furtherance of United States national security and foreign policy interests, pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct United States foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive.

WH: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/letter-president-speaker-house-representatives-president-pro-tempore-senate-2/