State Department recalls furloughed diplomats back to work

The State Department says it found money to pay its diplomats and is forcing them back to work

By Matthew Rozsa

Published January 17, 2019 2:38PM (EST)

Mike Pompeo   (Getty/Joe Raedle/Mikkaphoto/Salon)
Mike Pompeo (Getty/Joe Raedle/Mikkaphoto/Salon)

The State Department is telling American diplomats that they should return to work, arguing that their services are essential and that the government has found the money to compensate them despite the ongoing government shutdown.

Bill Todd, the deputy undersecretary for management, sent an urgent message to Civil and Foreign Service officers informing them that the State Department is "taking steps to make additional funds available to pay employee salaries," according to Politico. He added that "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."

The State Department also wrote that American diplomats provided a service too vital to be neglected.

"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," the State Department explained.

The story, which was broken by the Associated Press, marks only the latest twist in the fraught relationship between President Donald Trump's administration and America's State Department personnel. Trump's first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, lagged behind his predecessors when it came to the important job of staffing the State Department, and his policies in general were blamed for low morale. By December 2017, more than 100 State officials had either resigned or been fired, and as Vanity Fair reported at the time:

According to A.F.S.A., the labor union for the United States Foreign Service, the number of State Department employees that rank as either career ambassador or career minister — the equivalent of four- and three-star generals in the military, respectively — has fallen from 38 to 21 since January. Meanwhile, the number of minister counselors, the two-star commensurate, has dropped dramatically from 431 to 369 since right after Labor Day. Even future generations of foreign-service officers have taken a hit; the number of applicants registering to take the Foreign Service Officer Test this year will be less than half the 17,000 who registered just two years ago.

Trump has also caused direct problems for America's diplomats, such as when he considered handing over President Barack Obama's former ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, over to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Although Trump was eventually persuaded not to attempt this, it would have been demoralizing for America's diplomatic corps if one of their own could be turned over to a hostile foreign dictator.

"I think we have a rule of law in the United States, and I'm confident that that system will protect us from being interviewed by the Russian government," McFaul told Salon in July. "What I'm more concerned about is the Russian abusive use of Interpol to harass me and my fellow colleagues as we travel around to third countries, and I hope that the president will make clear in no uncertain terms to his counterpart President Putin that there would be consequences to doing something like that against former U.S. government officials."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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