YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Defense Department is still working on finding a solid legal interpretation that will allow it to bring hundreds of thousands of its furloughed civilians back to work, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told sailors Friday aboard the destroyer USS Stethem.
The Oct. 1 government shutdown that occurred after Congress failed to pass a federal budget appropriations bill left about 800,000 government workers — about half of which work for DOD — either furloughed or working without pay.
However, the “Pay Our Military Act” enacted Sept. 30 authorized pay for not only servicemembers but for DOD civilians that Hagel determines “are providing support to members of the Armed Forces.”
Hagel's comments Friday indicated support for a broad interpretation of that law, which is currently being pored over by the department’s legal counsel.
“There’s no job in our department that doesn’t support the military,” Hagel said. “Common sense tells you that if you’re working for the Department of Defense … you’re supporting those who are on the front lines.
“We’re going take care of all the components of DOD that support you,” Hagel added.
Hagel's comments aboard the Stethem came as he prepared to leave Asia after visits with high-level officials in South Korea and Japan.
On Thursday, Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry met with their counterparts in Tokyo and announced a revamp of U.S.-Japan security alliance guidelines, as well as missile radar and aircraft upgrades designed to boost surveillance in the Asia-Pacific region.
“Alliances have become critical, maybe more than they’ve ever been,” said Hagel, who added that the military “rebalance” toward the region doesn’t mean that the United States will retreat from other parts of the world.
Hagel took three questions from Stethem sailors Friday. He thanked them for their service and posed for photos with sailors individually.
“I know as you look on Washington, it appears we’re having some difficulty governing ourselves,” Hagel said. “Our country wants you to stay on the job, needs you to stay on the job.”