shutdown state department

How the Shutdown is Affecting the State Department

The partial government shutdown continues in the United States and it is hurting both the economy and federal workers. Keeping personal opinion aside, let’s lay out a few facts about the shutdown:

  • Today is day 28 of the shutdown
  • Today is January 18, when federal district courts run out of funds. Civil cases may be suspended or postponed, but criminal cases and other essential work will proceed.
  • This is the longest government shutdown in U.S. history
  • Federal workers who are affected by the shutdown have missed a paycheck
  • As of the writing of this article, an end to the shutdown is unknown
  • This is an emotional and financial toll on federal employees affected (and externally those who rely on these employees for income – restaurants, stores, etc.)
  • January 25 is when the next paycheck is sent, one week from today
  • Foreign Service candidates and Officers are being affected

There is so much to unpack with the shutdown that I am not even going to try. Instead, I am going to focus on some of the affects the shutdown has had on the State Department and, of course, the Foreign Service.

If you would like to read on some of the greater national effects, I welcome you to read the following:

The Shutdown and the State Department

Here is a list of items on how the shutdown is affecting different aspects of the State Department:

Day 27 Update

On day 27 (yesterday) of the shutdown, State Department diplomats were called back to work.

Somehow, the State Department found funds to cover diplomat salaries. Where this money was before, I don’t know. Most likely, funds that were previously reserved for certain initiatives are now being made available for salary. Come next pay period, 8,000 employees will receive some money.

However, diplomats who were furloughed will not receive money for the paycheck they missed until the shutdown comes to a conclusion. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the salaries will continue to be paid after the next paycheck, as these new found funds may run out.

Day 1 to day 26:

Foreign Service Orals are being postponed

If you are taking your Oral exam, then you are probably wondering if your assessment will take place. Unfortunately, the shutdown has caused candidates to have to postpone their assessment. However, you do not receive notice of the postponement until the day of or the day before. For those who have to travel (especially internationally), this absolutely sucks.

What follows is the response given to candidates who seek reassurance about their assessment date:

Thank you for your email. If the budget still is not passed by the date you are scheduled for an Oral Assessment (OA), our offices will be closed and the Board of Examiners will not be able to assess candidates.

Once the budget has passed, please reach out to us at: “___ “ with a suggested timeframe for your rescheduled OA. While we will do our best to accommodate your request, due to the extremely high volume of OAs, we are unable to guarantee that a specific requested timeframe will be available for your assessment.

If the budget passes before your scheduled OA, your appointment will be conducted as planned.

What about the FSOT?

This is still unclear. Technically, just as the Orals, the upcoming test in February is still scheduled.

What I think is going to happen is that all tests that are taking place in a Pearson assessment building will take place. This is third party and not reliant on federal funding to stay afloat. However, all tests that are supposed to take place in an embassy or consulate may be cancelled if the funding does not come back by your test date.

If you are in this position, I suggest writing to Pearson and the embassy/consulate you will test at for confirmation. Most likely they will tell you to wait and see, but you should still check if you have not already.

What about embassies and consulates?

Until yesterday’s cable to all employees to return, a very slim group. Known as “essential” or “excepted”, these employees “perform emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work”. And they perform it unpaid.

Now this does not include the Consular Section. These staff have access to some of their own funds as the processing of passport applications incurs a fee on the applicant. So they are still working and being paid. However, will their work continue if the applications cannot be counter processed stateside due to the shutdown (say something needs to be checked at FBI or Department of Homeland Security)?

What about the Foreign Service Institute?

Closed. Nobody is receiving training. From an Officer’s comment:

Based on some of the discussion on the Discord channel, the January A-100 participants were sworn-in and then sent home for self-study (but not furloughed) since FSI is closed. Have not seen any news on what the plan is if the shutdown continues to drag on; one would imagine that even though they are all awesome self-studiers that they probably need some classroom time to prepare to be deployed, as well as language training.

Locally Employed Staff

Locally Employed Staff, or non-U.S. diplomats are still being paid, for now.

Here are some quotes from the field:

I’m at post and furlouged, so I’m just idling sitting around at home.

Consular, so working and getting paid. EFM spouse is working and not getting paid, so things are getting tight. Definitely putting off unnecessary purchases, planning travel, etc.

Work-wise, my local staff are nervous. We just got a new officer, and can’t get his account set up because someone in DC needs to do a thing and they’re all closed. I just lost a staff member and need to train someone to take over a particular duty of hers, which I can’t do because it requires a distance learning class to be certified to do it, and FSI is closed. We are unable to make our regular office supply order so suddenly applicants stealing the pens at our passport windows is becoming an actual problem.

I’m furloughed. I had some time just idling away doing nothing. I’ve gone to get free shutdown sandwiches at the various DC restaurants offering them. I started really limiting my spending like being unwilling to even take the Metro unless I really need to, because I had no idea how long I’d have to stretch my last paycheck.

I just got to post and am furloughed. So literally everybody I know in the country is at work, none of my stuff is here, and it’s too damn cold to go outside.

They’re not doing anything. People are starting to worry about how they’re going to pass language or if they’ll have to extend in language. The contractors are laying people off. No one is sure how long they can stay in TDY housing on which State can’t pay rent. It’s a shitshow. For a while they had the FSI website shut down but now it’s back up for “national security essential” training.

With team members at various posts, it’s fun hearing all the different guidance.

Overseas is particularly bad for State Department employees told to stay home or put into involuntary servitude — a.k.a. essential employees

…and so much more

This is just a fraction of what is taking place with this mess. Hopefully, it improves soon. But, the reality is that neither side looks rushed to find a resolution.

I didn’t go into detail about the Furloughed Employees Handbook (yes it exists). The personal financial advice sent from AFSA. The need for this to be written: Furloughed feds won’t be RIFed if government shutdown extends past 30 days, OMB says. Or that the shutdown calculator, the cost to the U.S., is nearly at $5 billion.

At least once an agreement is made, all federal employees will be paid. But with 78% of workers living paycheck to paycheck, the next (potential) missed paycheck one week from today, and February 1st approaching fast, people are going to have to make tough decisions when it comes to mortgages, school payments, daycare, utility bills, and much, much more.

On the bright side, there are companies that are trying to assist, either with payment plans, 0% loans through the shutdown, free food, and by other means. But for how long? How many letters from the Deputy Under Secretary of Management need to be sent asking for help?

The only answer is to find a resolution, and to find one soon.

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