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Uncertainty reigns over military pay law

Uncertainty over who gets paid, and when, continues to weigh on the minds of some Defense Department workers as officials in Washington mull over a new law that authorizes military members and civilian workers who support them to collect despite a government shutdown that entered its third day on Thursday.

Officials say about half of the 800,000 DOD workers have been furloughed, while others classified as “excepted” — including teachers, emergency workers and those supporting military operations — were told to keep working. Late Monday, as the deadline to work out a funding deal for the government neared, Congress passed the “Pay Our Military Act” to ensure troops and excepted civilians would keep getting paychecks, and President Barack Obama signed it into law.

But some three days later, the Pentagon has yet to tell employees whether they’ll be able to collect their Oct. 15 pay.

On Thursday afternoon,  defense officials were still busy preparing guidance on implementation of the hastily passed law. The guidance could also clarify other questions, such as whether troops will continue to receive Imminent Danger Pay during the shutdown, and whether the Pentagon can expand the number of civilians able to work.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in recent days said he was hopeful of using the law to reduce the number of furloughed civilians, and several legislators in recent days told Hagel he now has the authority to end furloughs for all DOD civilians.

As of Thursday, teachers with the Defense Department of Defense Education Activity, who continue to work during the government shutdown, seemed unsure whether they would be paid on time. In a Thursday email to Stars and Stripes, a DODEA teacher said supervisors have told her and her colleagues “that our pay will be delayed. We have been given no further information. I think it is important that our community understands that currently, teachers are still teaching their children with no idea when a paycheck will come.”

A DODEA spokesman in Washington said Thursday the agency was still awaiting guidance from the Pentagon on whether DODEA teachers and other agency employees deemed “excepted” and working through the shutdown are included in the “Pay Our Military Act.”

A spokesman at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, responsible for processing paychecks for DOD employees, said the agency was waiting for guidance from Pentagon leaders before processing paychecks. As long as the decision in made by Oct. 7, the agency should have no problem issuing pay by the midmonth payday, DFAS spokesman Tom LaRock said.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.

carroll.chris@stripes.com
Twitter: @ChrisCarroll_
 

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