AFSA Foreign Service Furlough Stories: 10 Days to Get to a Plane for a Medical Evacuation!

Help Fund the Blog Diplopundit 2019 — 60-Day Campaign from June 5, 2019 – August 5, 2019

______________________________________

 

Excerpt via AFSA/StateVP Kenneth Kero-Mentz:

For many of us, the shutdown caused real financial trouble, and even with careful planning, paying bills became a stretch. Some members had already tapped into their “rainy day fund” after being forced to leave Mission Russia last year. Others had to juggle funds to pay tuition expenses or mortgages due in January. Unemployment benefits were not available to many members serving overseas. Single parents and tandem couples were hit particularly hard with the delay of first one paycheck, and then two.

We heard stories of how the shutdown affected our members’ work. For instance, at the National Defense University and other war colleges, Department of State students were locked out of lectures and prohibited from participating in seminars during the shutdown. USAID war college students were designated “excepted,” so they could continue attending class. Students from State should have been “excepted” as well. There’s no reason why the U.S. government’s investment in a yearlong master’s degree program for its future senior leadership cadre should be torn apart midstream.

A mid-level officer at a small post in Africa reported that she was busier than ever, covering for her furloughed colleagues, planning events only to cancel later as the shutdown dragged on. As days turned into weeks, and then surpassed a month, morale plummeted. After all, as she said, who wants to work for an organization that consistently understaffs and overworks its team? She wonders if her enthusiasm for what is increasingly becoming a thankless job will ever rebound.
[…]
At one large mission in Asia, all State Department employees were required to report to work regardless of pay status. These people could not do any public-facing work and could not contact their counterparts at other posts or the department (since they were all furloughed), but were required to report to work in a non-pay status. It did not make sense. As many members noted, furlough decisions should be made in a central and transparent manner. Though none of us expected the shutdown to last so long, better contingency planning could have helped.
[…]
The hardships went well beyond juggling work requirements and paying bills. One second-tour specialist was hospitalized and needed to medevac to the United States immediately. The shutdown delayed the processing of the medevac funding request; due to the shutdown and short staffing, it took 10 days to get the person on a plane.

#

 

Advertisements

Trump Shutdown Day#27: @StateDept, Also a National Security Agency, Now Says, We Just Found Some Money, Come Back to Work

Posted: 4:19 am EST

On January 17, on the 27th day of the Trump Shutdown, the State Department released an  Urgent Message from the Deputy Under Secretary for Management William Todd instructing employees to return to work on their first work day in Pay Period 2, which is either January 20, or January 22 depending on their  location and start of their work week.  Apparently, he has found some money to pay employees, and this would allow the agency to resume most personnel operations.  Which should be a relief to agency employees here and in over 275 overseas locations where people are worried not only about paying their bills, but also something as basic as obtaining heating oil during the winter months. We’re not sure if this would save those who are already considering curtailments, even resignations, and seeking work elsewhere.

Mr. Todd’s message did not explain where he found the money, why it took four weeks to find it, and why we’re just seeing “national security agency” and “imperative” to describe the State Department and its mission on the 4th week of the shutdown.

Given the poor track record here, we’re concerned that people are asked to go back to work while the State Department is “taking steps to make additional funds available to pay employee salaries.”

What does that even mean? Where is the State Department getting those additional funds? Is it planning to break into Fort Knox?

Also we’re not sure who were actually told about this in the “M” family bureaus. Apparently, people are calling FSI to see what this means. Can they go back to language training even if many of the instructors are contractors?

Reported FSI’s response, “We don’t know. We found out when you did.”

Holy guacamole, so Deputy M’s message is just like a presidential tweet but longer than 280!

ABC News has this nugget from an unnamed spox:

While the department could have taken this step to pay employees as soon as the shutdown started, it didn’t largely because no one anticipated the shutdown to last this long.

“It has become clear as the lapse has continued to historic lengths that we need our full team to address the myriad critical issues requiring U.S. leadership around the globe and to fulfill our commitments to the American people,” a State Department spokesperson told ABC News. “We are also deeply concerned about growing financial hardship and uncertainty affecting Department employees whose salaries and well-being are affected by the unprecedented length of the lapse.”

Whaaaat? Also U.S. leadership yabayabado frak!

The United States has become the subject of alarm and jokes from all continents except perhaps from the sober penguins of Antarctica. In these abnormal times, the Emperor penguins, by the way, boldly  want to know how many more bananas do we want?

Politico’s Nahal Toosi also has a comment from longest serving M, Patrick Kennedy:

Pat Kennedy, a former senior State Department official who oversaw management issues at the agency for years, said Thursday that diplomats should have been exempted from the shutdown from the start.

“As a national security agency, no one should have ever been furloughed” at the State Department, he wrote in an email. “And the available funds balances should have been utilized from the beginning so that all employees were paid all along.”

What that State Department spox forgot to add to ABC News is — “M” shoes are too big to fill for some people. Who knew?  (see Wait – @StateDept Has a Deputy “M” Again, a Position Discontinued by Congress in 1978). We should note that the State Department had a Senate- confirmed M, and a Senate-confirmed DGHR when Rex Tillerson took office but both were gone fairly quickly under T-Rex’s watch.

Also two years on in this administration, the State Department still does not have a Senate-confirmed Under Secretary for Management. The first Trump nominee for M during Tillerson’s time had an SFRC hearing but was then withdrawn. The second Trump nominee for M, Brian Bulatao, this time under Pompeo, had his nomination returned to the president at the end of last Congress. That nomination was resubmitted to the U.S. Senate on January 16. Since the GOP has an expanded majority in the U.S. Senate, we expect that this nomination will get through the confirmation process at some point, unless a GOP senator finds some issue with it.

Below is the Deputy M message, original statement posted here:

As a national security agency, it is imperative that the Department of State carries out its mission. We are best positioned to do so with fully staffed embassies, consulates, and domestic offices.

Recognizing the increasing hardship to employees caused by the ongoing lapse in appropriations, the Department is taking steps to make additional funds available to pay employee salaries. By taking these steps, the Department expects to be able to resume most personnel operations and fund most salaries beginning with Pay Period 2. As a result, all State Department direct-hire employees and State Department locally employed staff are expected to report to work on their first work day in Pay Period 2. For most employees, that will be January 22. For some overseas posts, where Sunday is the first day of the work week, that will be January 20. Contractors should contact their COR for reporting instructions.

Employees will be paid for work performed beginning on or after January 20 and will receive paychecks for Pay Period 2 on time on February 14. Beyond Pay Period 2, we will review balances and available legal authorities to try to cover future pay periods.

Employees, including those who have performed excepted functions, will not be paid for Pay Period 26 and Pay Period 1(the time period between December 22, 2018, and January 19, 2019) until FY 2019 appropriations are enacted.

Although most personnel operations can resume, bureaus and posts are expected to adhere to strict budget constraints with regard to new spending for contracts, travel, and other needs, consistent with Section B of the Department’s guidance on lapse in appropriations.

Thank you for your continued cooperation.

Very Best Regards,
Bill Todd
Deputy Under Secretary for Management

Please note that even if State Department employees start getting paid again, there are thousands more federal employees who are forced to work without pay, and many more sent home without pay. Here are some upcoming dates in the next couple of weeks. See more at CNBC:

Jan. 20: Deadline to make early food stamp payments

Jan. 25: Workers start missing next paychecks

Jan. 28: IRS expected to start accepting tax filings

Jan. 29: State of the Union

Feb. 8: Third missed paycheck

This is no way to run a country, but this is how our country is run these days. No wonder the Emperor penguins in Moscow are also laughing their heads off.

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.

#

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)).

 

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.

#

@StateDept Tells Employees There’s “Enough Time” and It’s Updating Contingency Plans For “Orderly Shutdown”

Posted: 9:59 am PT
Updated: Jan 22, 2018; 3:12 pm PT

 

Update: Late January 19, the State Department released its Guidance on Operations during a Lapse in Appropriations which supersedes the previous guidance issued December 9, 2017. USAID’s guidance released at 7:30 pm on January 19 is available here

Related to our prior post — As Govt #Shutdown Looms Large, @StateDept Still “Reviewing All Available Options” #MissingGuidance — we’ve learned that Acting DGHR and “M Coordinator” Bill Todd sent out a message to State Department employees this morning concerning planning for a potential lapse in appropriations.

He tells employees that “The Administration strongly believes that a lapse in funding should not occur. There is enough time to prevent a lapse in appropriations.”

He talks about “prudent management” and working on updating the agency’s contingency plans for “executing an orderly shutdown” should there be a lapse in appropriations:

“… prudent management requires that we be prepared for all contingencies, including the possibility that a lapse could occur. A lapse would mean that a number of government activities would cease due to a lack of appropriated funding, and that a number of employees would be temporarily furloughed. To prepare for this possibility, we are working to update our contingency plans for executing an orderly shutdown of activities that would be affected by a lapse in appropriations.”

The potential shutdown is tonight and Tillerson’s godpod people are still working on guidance that should have been out a week ago?

For posts whose workday doesn’t start on Monday but starts tomorrow and Sunday, what are they supposed to do with less than 12 hours to go? The December 2017 guidance says that “Posts that normally operate on Saturdays or Sundays will immediately commence procedures.”

But … but … what procedures are they supposed to commence immediately if/when the shutdown happens tonight?

The message from A/DGHR and M Coordinator Bill Todd ends with “The uncertainty of the current circumstances puts our workforce in a difficult situation, and should a lapse occur, it could impose hardships on many employees as well as the people that we serve every day.”  Apparently, he also expressed commitment to providing employees “with updated and timely information on any further developments.”

Uh-oh.  Remember how many folks were furloughed in 2013?

We’ve heard that there are overseas posts already telling employees to just show up on Monday and that they will be told then who will be furloughed. We have not heard yet what will happen to posts that opens tomorrow and Sunday. Are we going to see updated guidance at 11:59 pm tonight? Will folks be working on those furlough lists/letters after midnight tonight?

Related posts:

#


Welcome Back, State/OIG, We’ve Missed You!

— By Domani Spero

On September 30, Mr. Linick’s first day in office, we posted this:  Senate Confirms Steve Linick; State Dept Finally Gets an Inspector General After 2,066 Days.

One day later, he lost 65% of his entire staff. State Dept Declares Inspector General Office “Non-Essential”, Furloughs All Staffers Except a Handful (Corrected).

In one of its six offices (Inspection, Audit, Investigation, General Counsel, Public Affairs and EX) four out of approximately 50 employees were declared “excepted.”  The rest were given letters notifying them that they had been furloughed. So on Tuesday, the first day of the shutdown, the State/OIG employees worked no more than four hours to “shutdown” then went home for an undetermined period of time.  They’re back at work today but we fear that the 16-day furlough will have a demoralizing impact.

Besides the IG office, the International Water Boundary Commission was also furloughed. The total number of employees furloughed by State, a number hard to come by, was reportedly in the low hundreds.

The Cable’s John Hudson who puts the number at about 340 employees, reports that this “disproportionate furlough allotment has led critics to accuse the department of undervaluing the watchdog office, though the department strongly disputes that.”

“On day one, they sent home the IG’s office without knowing how long the shutdown would last,” a Congressional staffer familiar with State’s shutdown planning told The Cable. “I think the Department’s action speaks for itself about its commitment to transparency, accountability, and oversight.”

But State’s IG spokesman Douglas Welty denied the allegation. “OIG does not feel ‘targeted’ or ‘undervalued’ at all,” he said. “While there was certainly a significant impact on OIG operations with about 65% of our staff furloughed due to the government shutdown, work on several priority issues and projects continued.”

That may be, but as The Cable notes, “the optics of OIG taking a disproportionate share of the furloughs isn’t great for an office with a history of being marginalized.”

We were told that while it was “a challenge” to have about 65% of OIG staff furloughed one day after Mr. Linick started as the Inspector General, some critical work did continue.  For instance, the Office of Audits excepted staff did continue work on financial statement audits, as well as those working on projects and investigations in the Middle East Region Office (MERO).  The MERO Directorate is responsible for performing engagements within the Middle East and South and Central Asia, in addition to the general operation of overseas offices in Kabul Afghanistan; Islamabad, Pakistan; and Baghdad, Iraq.  However, several overseas and domestic inspections have been delayed.  The exceptions were two overseas inspections that did continue despite the shutdown because they were already in the field.

Screen Shot 2013-10-17 at 8.47.17 PM

If you want the upside here, it is probably that while Mr. Linick’s transition has not been smooth, the last two weeks did give him time to meet with his senior staff (at least those not furloughed) and get a thorough briefings on OIG’s structure, operations and priority issues.  The downside, of course, is — the new kid in the block was in no position to make the case for continued operation when he just got there. And what a reception!    On a related note, Emilia Disanto has been appointed Acting Deputy Inspector General as of October 1. Karen Ouzts is the new Assistant Inspector General for Administration, with appointment date of  September 4, 2013. And  Norman P. Brown, the Acting Assistant Inspector General for Audits was appointed to his position on September 13, 2013.

Now —  we understand that the reason why the OIG was furloughed was due to its annual fiscal year funding, as opposed to multi-year or no-year funding for the rest of the State Department.  Of all the many offices at State, OIG is one of the very few offices with one-year funding.  But since the OIG is tasked with investigating fraud, waste and mismanagement of an agency with multi-year/no-year funds, wouldn’t it make sense that its funding corresponds/mirrors with the designated Federal entity’s funding to which the Inspector General reports? So if State has multi-year funding, shouldn’t State/OIG ought to have multi-year funding, too?

Something to watch out for when State/OIG, a statutorily created independent entity, makes its 2015 Congressional Budget Justification. For now we just want to say —

🎈🎈🎈

Welcome back folks, we’ve missed you!

🎈🎈🎈

State Department’s Magic Number on the Furloughs?

— By Domani Spero

Via the October 7 Daily Press Brief with Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf:

QUESTION: We have some congressional sources who are telling us that the magic number on the furloughs at State is 343, half of them being – 179 – being from OIG, the Office of Inspector General. Can you confirm those numbers for me?

MS. HARF: Well, I can say that we currently have, I would say, hundreds of employees furloughed. Again, as we’ve said, it’s a small number. We talked about that some are from the Office of the Inspector General; some are from another office as we’ve talked about as well. And I would underscore that every day this goes on longer, we risk having that number go up to the thousands. Thankfully, we’re not there yet. But every day this goes on longer we get closer.

Via WordItOut

QUESTION: So can give us any —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just one quick follow-up.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about any upcoming impacts that might happen, say, later this week or next week if this thing drags on?

MS. HARF: I don’t have a timeline. I think this was where Elise was about to go. I don’t have a timeline for when furloughs might happen. No additional steps to announce at this point. As we’ve said, we’ve sharply curtailed travel, participation in conferences, public participation, and other events. That’s happening – that’s already started happening, was happening last week, but nothing new on top of that to announce at this point.

As of October 7, AFSA is telling members that “Bureaus, with the exception of the OIG, have yet to notify any employees of their excepted/non-excepted status.”  It reiterated once more that the Department “intends to provide some notice before any emergency furloughs.”

(o_O)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Press Corps to State Dept: What are the numbers … will we ever know? Jacha-cha-cha-cha! What does the fox say?

— By Domani Spero

Another day, another State Department briefing with a diplomatic press corps “obsessed” with numbers.  The agency’s deputy spokesperson Marie Harf remains unable to provide furlough numbers for the department. The “this is a very large department going through and making sure we have completely accurate numbers” response is not really cutting it, anymore.

We’re hearing that as of 1715 today, word went out that there is “appropriations for next week.”  So presumably that covers the work week until Friday next week.  Employees reportedly were also “guaranteed” that they would get a 5 day notice before a furlough. Not sure how much work will Congress do this weekend but if State pinkie-swore a 5-day notice, the furlough letters potentially could start going out this Monday.

Ms. Harf says it’s “not that anyone’s trying to hide anything.” The press corps and this blog wonders … will we ever know?  So below is our send off for the weekend with Ylvis, the Norwegian comedy duo Bård and Vegard Ylvisåker, and their song, ‘What does the fox say?” We’re making it fit the occasion, because why not, it’s been a long week and we loved these guys!

QUESTION: What effects though – what new updates do you have on the effects of the —

MS. HARF: No new updates. Like I said, every day we’re continuing to look at the numbers. We haven’t had to undertake massive furloughs like we’ve seen, unfortunately, elsewhere. But no new updates on our posture today.

QUESTION: And we don’t have any numbers yet on furloughs?

MS. HARF: No numbers.

QUESTION: Why don’t we have any numbers on furloughs?

MS. HARF: We just don’t have any to provide at this point. We’ve said it’s a very small number in these offices. If we have numbers to share, we will.

QUESTION: Well, it’s small, like what – like under 10 or 50 or —

MS. HARF: I know you ask the same question every day, and we just don’t have numbers for you at this point.

QUESTION: Why not?

QUESTION: My question is: Why.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. HARF: Why?

QUESTION: Why are you unwilling to provide the numbers?

MS. HARF: Right. Well, we – I just don’t have those numbers in front of me. I know our folks are looking at them now.

QUESTION: How long does it take? It’s been going on for days.

QUESTION: But I didn’t ask you whether you had them in front of you. I asked why, and Deb asked why.

MS. HARF: Well, I said that’s why I can’t provide them, because they’re not in front of me.

QUESTION: Why? No, but that’s – look, tautologies like this don’t help anybody. There’s got to be a reason why you’re unwilling to provide the numbers. What is it?

MS. HARF: The answer – I’ve said it’s a very small number. I can endeavor to get a specific number for you on it.

QUESTION: But – yeah. We’ve been asking now for days. So when —

MS. HARF: Okay. I will keep endeavoring to get you one.

QUESTION: Well, what do you think the problem is?

MS. HARF: I don’t know that there’s a problem. I just don’t have the number in front of me, and I will see if we can get one.

QUESTION: Would you say that the numbers are increasing with every passing day, from Tuesday until today?

MS. HARF: The numbers of what?

QUESTION: The numbers of people —

MS. HARF: Of furloughs?

QUESTION: — being furloughed. Yes.

MS. HARF: No. So —

QUESTION: So the number is static. Whatever was furloughed —

MS. HARF: Correct.

QUESTION: — were furloughed on Tuesday —

MS. HARF: That small number – yes. That’s correct.

QUESTION: Yeah. It has not increased, not likely to increase?

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding, Said. That’s my understanding. Again, at some point, we will no longer have funds to operate, and at that point we will undertake —

QUESTION: — all be furloughed.

MS. HARF: We will undertake – unfortunately have to undertake much bigger furloughs than we’ve had to at this point.

QUESTION: So the small number of furloughs, though, are they in with the OIG —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and the Boundary Waters Commission —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — or whatever it is?

MS. HARF: And some of the offices I spoke about the other day.

QUESTION: So —

MS. HARF: Yeah. The people – the offices that are funded on one-year funding.

QUESTION: Okay. So those were examples, or those were the list?

MS. HARF: I – those were examples; I don’t know if it’s the totality —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: — of the list. I think that’s one thing people are doing right now is – this is a very large department going through and making sure we have completely accurate numbers about who’s in what offices, who’s under one-year funding.

Now if there’s someone who’s an employee of an office that’s one-year funded but they’re detailed somewhere else, are they furloughed – this isn’t super simple to calculate. So I’ll see what I can do on numbers.

QUESTION: Okay. But the furloughs are in those – in those – in these programs?

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding, yes. The people that are operating under one-year funding, those offices are closed, and that’s my understanding where the furloughs reside.

QUESTION: And again, on the embassies abroad and the consulates and the passports —

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and all that just remains, correct?

MS. HARF: It remains. It continues. Yes.

QUESTION: And if you have to furlough anybody in the embassies out abroad, then does that affect the passports? Or it doesn’t affect them at all, ever?

MS. HARF: So I don’t want to get ahead of where we are here. It’s my understanding that if we have to undertake further furloughs, we will still be able to provide visa and passport services because they’re fee-funded services.

QUESTION: And as we were talking about yesterday, those people who do those jobs are fee-funded?

MS. HARF: That’s my understanding. I can check on the specifics, but obviously, I think we focused a lot on furloughs because that’s a hugely important part of this, but the reason I started yesterday talking about some of the programs, the reason I started today talking about some of the negative press we’ve been getting around the world is because it’s about more than just furloughs. It’s about our ability to go out and represent our values and interests, and that’s much harder right now because we don’t have any FY 2014 money.

QUESTION: Can I ask —

QUESTION: How much of a heads-up will these people get?

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm. Yep.

QUESTION: So —

MS. HARF: Go ahead. What?

QUESTION: How much heads-up will the people who work in this building get? They just get told, “Don’t show up for work tomorrow,” or – how much leave time?

MS. HARF: It’s a good question, and I don’t know the answer to it. Obviously, if we get to that point – and we don’t want to have to get to that point – we would encourage Congress to not let us get to that point, but we would take every step to make sure that people are given notice and all the process that we’ve gone through in other agencies as well. But again, I hope we don’t have to get to that point.

QUESTION: You said that in a short period of time you might have to start making some tougher decisions and increasing the number of furloughs. Do you have a – are we talking about two or three days, or two or three weeks, or —

MS. HARF: I don’t have a specific timeframe for you. One thing we’ve done is we’ve scaled back a lot of our programs, travel, a lot of other things that we do that costs money prior to furloughing, of course. So we’ve been doing that throughout this week.

So a lot of travel that had been scheduled, events, other things that cost money, have been scaled back. So —

QUESTION: Can you give us an example of something that’s been scaled back?

MS. HARF: Well, a lot of travel that’s not the Secretary or some of our other senior —

QUESTION: Such as?

MS. HARF: I can try and get you some examples.

QUESTION: I mean, it would be useful —

MS. HARF: Yeah – no —

QUESTION: — which conferences you haven’t been able to go to as a result of this.

MS. HARF: Completely. I agree. And I think there are actually some fairly illustrative ones of key foreign policy priorities that we haven’t been able to do. So I will endeavor to get you a list after the briefing. I know there’s – quite frankly, a lot of our travel has been curtailed that really hurts our ability to advance some of these priorities.

But going forward, every single day, our number crunchers are looking at what we have and what we can do with it, and what we can’t do with it, and every single day, that conversation gets harder. But I don’t have a timeline because the budgets are complicated and people obviously are looking at it every day.

QUESTION: Sure, and I appreciate that, but at the same time, as – in answer to Margaret’s question, you were saying that you were going to try to give people a heads-up.

MS. HARF: Of course.

QUESTION: You must have somewhere – or your budget crunchers must have somewhere – a kind of – a tipping point, at which point you’re then going to have to start bringing in more sharper and deeper cuts within the Department.

MS. HARF: I’m sure that they have a bunch of different scenarios they’re looking at right now. Again, I don’t have a timeline for you on that. I don’t think it’s – obviously, nothing’s happened at this point this week, but if we have any more clarity to provide on that, I can attempt to pry that from them as well.

QUESTION: Can we go to (inaudible)?

MS. HARF: Hold on. We’ll go to Egypt. Is it shutdown?

QUESTION: Before the – no, on the furlough.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: Just very quickly, because there seems to be such a great deal of confusion among foreign government. They don’t understand this business of shut – the government shutting down. Did you issue —

MS. HARF: I think the American people also don’t understand this business of shutting down, but that’s a different question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m saying – yeah, exactly – did you issue, like, a standard statement to foreign governments saying that this is what is happening and that’s what’s expected?

MS. HARF: I don’t know —

QUESTION: Or you don’t see a need for that?

MS. HARF: I don’t know if we’ve issued a standard statement. Of course our ambassadors and our diplomats on the ground are having tough conversations with our partners around the world. If there are things we’ve committed to do that we then can no longer do – conferences we’re supposed to participate in, multilateral engagements we’re supposed to participate in – clearly, those are tough conversations. And our folks around the world are having those with partner governments right now.

I don’t know if there’s one message we sent to all of them, but I think the overall general message we’re sending through our diplomats is that we’re committed to the relationships, we’re committed to the work we have to do together, we will do everything in our power to continue this work, but that right now, we have some budgetary and financial limitations, and so we will do everything we can to try to move these relationships forward, but quite frankly, it’s really tough right now.

QUESTION: Yes, please, about the shutdown.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Maybe I will try to phrase it in a way that you may find an answer for, but what I am asking about is about the number, because as it was published today in New York Times, a detailed story about how many people are not working at the State – at the White House.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And a few days ago, there was something, a hint about the number – numbers means numerical value, not many or little – number.

MS. HARF: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: All these things were mentioned, whether it’s the Pentagon or in White House. So what is your philosophy or justification of not saying numbers, although you are concerned about the image of United States abroad?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t think this is a philosophical discussion about a number.

QUESTION: I’m not saying thing – I mean, I’m trying to – I’m not – philosophical discussion. I’m asking —

MS. HARF: Yeah, right.

QUESTION: — we are asking —

MS. HARF: You asked what my philosophy was behind it, and I don’t think that there’s —

QUESTION: If you have a philosophy or justification or —

MS. HARF: — a big philosophy behind it.

QUESTION: — anything.

MS. HARF: No, it’s a good question, and I know this is – we’ve all been kind of obsessed with the number here, and I will attempt to get a specific one for you. I think for us, it’s that this is about more than a number of furloughs in an office. This is about how it affects our mission all around the world and what we’re doing on the ground. Obviously, every agency has the ability to put out numbers about who’s furloughed and who’s not. So we’ll keep having this discussion, and if I can get a number that I can share, I will do so.

QUESTION: So —

QUESTION: I mean, it is because if you give us a number, then it undercuts the argument that it is preventing you from doing all this abroad, or —

MS. HARF: No, not at all.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: I just don’t have a number in front of me.

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. HARF: Look, what I’ve said – we have not hidden the fact that we have not had to do massive furloughs. I’ve also been very clear that the people we have are in a very small number of offices, so nobody’s hiding that fact. And I think the point I’ve tried to make repeatedly is that it’s more – it’s about more than that number. It’s about what we can and can’t do overseas. So it’s not that anyone’s trying to hide anything. It’s that I just – I don’t have a number for you. I’m happy to keep looking to get it for you.

👀