State Department Orders Staff To Return To Work During Shutdown

The State Department is calling back employees to work, telling them they will be paid for at least one pay period, despite the ongoing government shutdown. In an urgent message sent to Civil and Foreign Service officers on Thursday, Bill Todd, the deputy undersecretary for management, told staffers that 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,” Todd’s notice states. “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.”

According to the notice, employees will be paid for the upcoming pay period, receiving paychecks on Feb. 14. Afterward, the department “will review balances and available legal authorities to try to cover future pay periods.” But employees will not be paid for work performed so far under the ongoing government shutdown until after appropriations bills are passed into law, the notice adds.

The department didn’t say where it was finding money to pay its employees. It cautioned that “bureaus and posts are expected to adhere to strict budget constraints with regard to new spending for contracts, travel, and other needs.”

According to Politico, the department justified the decision by stating, “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."

As Bloomberg notes, while visa and passport services overseas that are funded by fees have remained open, many embassy staff members around the world have been on furlough - not working and not paid - along with hundreds of thousands of government workers affected by the shutdown in the U.S. In some cases, unpaid workers have been taking turns coming to offices one or two days a week to keep operations going.

According to the department, about 26 percent of American employees of the State Department overseas and about 42 percent stationed in the U.S. had been furloughed, according to the department. Most non-U.S. citizens working for the department abroad have still been working thanks to labor laws in their countries that prohibit unpaid furloughs, the department said.