Trump widens callback of US workers with pay to blunt shutdown

About 26 per cent of American employees of the State Department overseas and about 42 per cent stationed in the US had been furloughed, according to the department. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The State Department told employees they're going back to work with pay despite the partial government shutdown, as the Trump administration continues to craft exemptions aimed at minimising the effects of the funding impasse with Congress.

"The department expects to be able to resume most personnel operations and fund most salaries," the department said on Thursday (Jan 17) in the letter to its worldwide staff. For most workers, that means going back to work on Jan 22.

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".

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement that the shutdown "continues to create a real risk for US foreign policy".

"While I believe it is critically important that our diplomacy and development professionals get paid for their service to our nation, trying to hold a government together with duct tape" is "no way to govern," the senator from New Jersey said in a statement.

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 US.

In some cases, unpaid workers have been taking turns coming to offices one or two days a week to keep operations going.

About 26 per cent of American employees of the State Department overseas and about 42 per cent stationed in the US had been furloughed, according to the department.

Most non-US citizens working for the department abroad have still been working thanks to labour laws in their countries that prohibit unpaid furloughs, the department said.

Embassy employees who were forced to work without pay during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's visit to the Middle East last week openly complained about the workload. Some said they may be compelled to file for unemployment or look for new jobs.

As President Donald Trump battles Democrats in Congress over the funding he demands for a wall at the border with Mexico in the longest shutdown in US history, an increasing number of federal agencies have been calling back workers to limit the impact and protect favored industries and policy initiatives.

Unlike the State Department's announcement that it will be paying workers, the administration has ordered thousands of furloughed federal employees back to work without pay to inspect planes, issue tax refunds, monitor food safety and facilitate the sale of offshore oil drilling rights.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that it is bringing back some safety specialists to approve new planes for service, review plane maintenance and conduct airport inspections. That came a day after the Food and Drug Administration said it was recalling workers to resume inspections of high-risk fare such as soft cheeses and seafood.

The Internal Revenue Service last week said it is calling back employees to issue tax refunds. And the Interior Department is summoning staff back to ready sales of oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

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