Cuba broadcasting: “Essential to national security”

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U.S. government-financed broadcasts to Cuba and other nations can continue despite the government shutdown because they “necessary for conducting foreign relations essential to the national security,” according to the U.S. Agency for Global Media.
An agency memo states:

The USAGM Office of General Counsel (OGC) has issued a memorandum establishing that there is a sufficient legal basis for the USAGM Board’s determination that United States international broadcasting activities of the USAGM qualify as “foreign relations essential to the national security” and are, therefore, excepted activities which may continue during the appropriations lapse. These excepted activities represent the minimum activities necessary to produce and distribute Voice of America (VOA) and Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) programming and to distribute programming of the USAGM. Federal employees who are covered by this exception include the minimum VOA, OCB, Technology, Services, and Innovation (TSI), and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) employees required to produce and distribute relevant programming.
Similarly, the USAGM OGC has determined that the non-Federal Grantees (Radio Free Asia (RFA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), and Middle East Broadcasting Network, Inc. (MBN) also engage in core broadcasting activities for the Agency that qualify as “foreign relations essential to the national security” and are, therefore, excepted activities which may continue during the appropriations lapse. Accordingly, the Agency may incur obligations in support of the grantees’ core broadcasting activities.
The scope of this excepted activity is based on the following programming assumptions:

  • Minimum operations necessary to keep the USAGM global distribution network operational;
  • Current programming schedule remains, with minimum operations necessary to stay on the air;
  • Highest priority news programs continue;
  • Breaking news is covered;
  • No new programs or projects are initiated;
  • Evergreen and pre-recorded material will be used to the highest extent possible;
  • Internet and new media operations continue as appropriate; and
  • Excepted employees are those essential to produce and distribute these programs.

Activities that fall under this category (Approximately 66% of the USAGM workforce or an estimated 982 staff).
Employees performing excepted activities will continue to report to work and perform their duties.
Please note that the definition of an employee of the federal government only includes those individuals who are directly employed by the U.S. Government. The definition does not include contractors, such as purchase order vendors, stringers, and other individuals or entities who maintain contractual relationships with the USAGM. The treatment of contractual services is covered in a later section of this guidance.

Federal officials who fail to stop working during a government shutdown can face “fines of up to $5,000 and imprisonment of up to two years per violation.”
But the government allows some activities to continue despite a shutdown if those activities are:

  • “Necessary to execute an orderly shutdown of affected operations”
  • “Necessary for the safety of human life or the protection of property”
  • “Necessary for conducting foreign relations essential to the national security.”

See agency FAQ on shutdown.

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