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US State Department to bring back full staff despite shutdown

  • Published at 10:18 pm January 18th, 2019
US-govertment shutdown
A placard is placed before Senate Democrats' news conference about government shutdown on the steps of the US Capitol in Washington, January 16, 2019 Reuters

State Department said it would pay all of its 75,000 employees using available funds it has located

The US State Department said Thursday it had found money to bring back full staff to ensure the smooth running of US foreign policy despite a month-long political impasse that has shut down Washington.

The department sent out orders for all staff to return as of Sunday, the start of the next pay period. With the Martin Luther King Jr federal holiday on Monday, staff will effectively be back at work on Tuesday.

Unlike many federal employees such as airport security screeners and Coast Guard members who are working without pay, the State Department said it would pay all of its 75,000 employees using available funds it has located.

An official said it had become clear as the shutdown dragged on that the full departmental workforce was needed to address the "myriad critical issues requiring US leadership around the globe."

"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," he added on condition of anonymity.

The State Department said it would still use its resources sparingly and would not immediately pay back salaries to workers that had been furloughed -- or ordered home without pay -- for the first month of the shutdown.

It also said it was unsure whether it could continue paying employees if the shutdown lasted beyond the next month.

As of Thursday, 23% of the State Department's directly employed workers overseas and 40% of them in the United States have been furloughed.

The shutdown has not affected non-American employees of US embassies, whose pay has already been assured through early March.

The State Department had held off on furloughs of local staff overseas, mindful that many countries have laws that prohibit work without pay -- as well as the potential impact to the US image.

The US government ran out of appropriated funding on December 22 as President Donald Trump demands $5.7 billion to build a wall on the border with Mexico -- a signature promise in 2016 when the mogul ran for president on an anti-immigration platform.

Amid the shutdown, the United States has kept up basic functions overseas such as issuing visas but has been notably absent in some areas, with US embassies for example not updating social media.