I was a good ol’ civil servant back in 2013 during the last government shutdown. I remember it fondly because it was my first year in government service and I had a previously scheduled vacation during the first week of October because my parents planned to visit. My vacation went on as normal during the shutdown but because we were furloughed and couldn’t actually come into work, I didn’t have to use my vacation time and I was paid retroactively for the roughly 2 weeks we were shut down, so it was a win-win, right? Except that the shutdown cost the government more than $2 billion in lost productivity, and delayed important news releases from my agency and causing us to scramble to make up lost work during the busiest period of the year.
Which leads us to…the possibility of a shutdown starting at midnight tonight. Will Diplowife have to work on Monday if this isn’t resolved? What about important embassy functions such as issuing passports? According to reporting by Vox and Diplopundit, no one knows. According to a State Department spokesperson (as reported by Diplopundit), DOS is, shockingly, still reviewing contingency plans for how they will handle a shutdown. If this is a little shocking, then it should be, because Americans abroad will not know for sure if they will be able to receive an emergency passport if theirs is lost or stolen, or if they will have Consular access if they are detained in a foreign land, or any of the other many services that embassies perform for Americans abroad.
According to the December 4, 2017 guidance, though, Consular operations will remain 100% operational as funds permit and, generally, FS staff will still be required to come in, but whether local staff work or not depends on each country’s local labor laws, and EFM employees will be furloughed unless they are paid on the local pay plan. However, since no guidance has been filtering down from State to the embassies, nobody actually knows for sure what will happen come Monday if no appropriations bill or stopgap measure is passed by 4pm EST today (the president is leaving town to go on vacation at 4pm, which is why there is only a limited amount of time for this…he’s not going to cut back his weekend to sign a funding bill). Usually there is a list of “essential” and “non-essential” employees who must/must not work during a shutdown, but apparently no list has been populated, leading on senior State official to report that they “are expected to show up on Monday and figure it out from there.”
The broader issue here is probably related to the administration’s unwillingness to and disinterest in staffing senior positions at State. Roughly 1/3 of senior positions at State remain unfilled, and among those is the Under Secretary for Management, which is responsible things like human resources, training, budget, diplomatic security, and consular affairs, among others. I assume that shutdown planning would come under this directive, and I’m not surprised that there is no comprehensive plan in place without a departmental leader who has the authority to shape and approve the plans and delegate tasks such as creating a list of essential personnel in case of a shutdown. If you are interested in reading more about why this is a big deal, check out this Foreign Policy article.