Shutdown prompts furloughs for 1,800 in Ohio National Guard
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Washington gridlock has led to work disruptions within the Ohio Army and Air National Guard, which has about 1,800 mechanics, pilots and administrative staff members on furlough because of the federal-government shutdown.
Drills for reservists are canceled for this weekend, Army helicopters are grounded, and Air National Guard aircraft at Rickenbacker, Toledo and Mansfield bases are limited to “mission critical” flights.
Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said President Barack Obama already has the authority to get national guardsmen back to work without signing any new spending measures. The Cincinnatian is among the GOP lawmakers who have voted to tie spending changes to the Affordable Care Act, the source of the congressional gridlock.
Portman and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arguing that the Pay Our Military Act, which Obama signed to pay active-duty military personnel during the shutdown, gives the administration “latitude” to pay guardsmen, reservists and civilian personnel.
“It remains unclear how the department will interpret and carry out this legislation,” the lawmakers said in their letter.
“That uncertainty is providing additional hardships for Defense Department civilians who are struggling to mitigate the impacts of the government shutdown on their pocketbooks and their families, and it is forcing guard units across the country to cancel drill exercises amidst uncertainty about whether those men and women can be paid.”
The White House did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. But Johann Klein, legislative liaison for the Ohio National Guard, said there was no current bill to pass or action to take outside of a spending resolution that could end the furloughs.
The Republican-controlled House passed a resolution to fund National Guard operations as part of its plan to appropriate piecemeal spending during the shutdown. But it died in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which says the House can send everyone back to work by voting on the Senate-approved spending measure that would end the whole shutdown.
“At this point, there is nothing pending, nothing on the president’s desk,” Klein said. “I am sure there will be other measures introduced, but there is nothing pending at this time.”
Ohio has 1,060 Air National Guard technicians on furlough, along with 759 technicians with the Army National Guard, said guard spokesman James Sims. He said they do everything from working on aircraft and trucks to processing government contracts.
The monthly drill session scheduled for this weekend for about two-thirds of the roughly 11,000 Ohio Army National Guard members has been postponed, as have drills at several Ohio Air National Guard bases across the state.
“We still have the capability to respond to any domestic situation in Ohio,” Sims said. “We are still maintaining our readiness to support the war fight. This government shutdown and subsequent furloughs have had an impact on our operations.”
Sims said the postponed drills would be made up sometime between November and September 2014.
“This didn’t have to happen,” Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern said during a teleconference yesterday, shortly after a story was posted about the National Guard furloughs on Dispatch.com. Redfern blamed the shutdown on House Speaker John Boehner, R-West Chester, and his caucus’s “obsession with sabotaging the Affordable Care Act.” Redfern called Boehner’s leadership “ reckless and rudderless.”