Shutdown over, but effects may linger across Europe
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — The shutdown is over and the debt ceiling was raised, but uncertainty was still the name of the game Thursday as military organizations in Europe awaited further guidance on how and when things would get back to normal.
The Office of Personnel Management posted a message on its website telling government civilians they “are expected to return for work on their next regularly scheduled work day (Thursday, October 17th for most employees), absent other instructions from their employing agencies.”
The deal struck by lawmakers late Wednesday also pays all furloughed employees for the period of the lapse in appropriations.
Little beyond that was clear.
“Unfortunately, not all the details are in yet,” Tech. Sgt. Ben Wilson, a spokesman for U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa said. “And a lot of stuff I think they’re going to find out tonight and into tomorrow, because D.C. just got up an hour or so ago.”
The continuing resolution agreed to by Congress and President Barack Obama late Wednesday extends the government’s spending authority through Jan. 15, but only at fiscal 2013 levels. The deal retains sequestration, the across-the-board cuts that military service chiefs said prevent them from moving money where they need it. Sequestration-related cuts and other measures that went in place before the shutdown are unlikely to be reversed under the deal.
So for most in Europe, the resumption of business as usual isn’t likely to look drastically different than life under the shutdown.
While the shutdown devastated some government organizations, such as the Department of the Interior and NASA, its effects on the military’s day-to-day overseas operations were muted by legislation that shielded the military from many of the shutdown’s effects.
Most military offices and activities that shuttered when the shutdown began Oct. 1 reopened Oct. 7 after lawmakers passed a bill allowing most Defense Department civilians to go back to work. Overseas commissaries and military exchanges never closed. Garrison-level operations that slowed in the first days of the shutdown have largely been back to normal for more than a week.
Even the Combined Federal Campaign, an annual, government-wide charity drive that was suspended stateside during the shutdown, drove on at overseas posts.
“So yesterday’s news or developments, while they’re obviously important, might be felt differently at higher levels or different levels,” Mark Heeter, a spokesman for U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz said.
In Europe, at least, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools largely continued to operate as usual throughout the shutdown, at least as far as students were concerned. Some school personnel were furloughed, but sports and other activities continued without cancellations.
Department of Defense Education Activity spokesman Frank O’Gara said Thursday that the organization’s funding and level of activities for the next few months were still uncertain. DODEA is awaiting guidance from the DOD and will share it with schools when it arrives, O’Gara said.
Early in the shutdown, DODDS administrators in the Pacific canceled a journalism conference that was supposed to happen next week. School officials did not rule out the conference being rescheduled later in the school year.
Like that conference, the fallout from the third-longest government shutdown in U.S. history could take weeks or months to unravel.
While the shutdown didn’t affect servicemembers’ pay, the military suspended some official travel, causing some in uniform to miss training required for career advancement. Elective surgeries were put on hold at military hospitals. Some permanent duty station moves were disrupted.
“Bottom line: it’s too soon to tell how the conclusion of the shut-down will affect us,” U.S. Army Europe spokesman Bruce Anderson said in an email response to questions about how the shutdown’s effects would unwind.
“Employees should return to work and operations should resume; however, as this bill was only signed last night, we do not know at this point exactly what has been appropriated and what the implications of the shut-down period are to those appropriations.”
Vice Adm. Bill Moran, the chief of Naval Personnel, wrote in a message posted on the Navy’s website that the deal “should allow us to begin to get back to business, relieving some of the uncertainty so that we can focus on warfighting.”
But Moran’s message was clear that all is not back to normal.
Washington’s resolution to the fiscal stalemate fell far short of the Pentagon’s hopes that lawmakers would cut a deal on a budget. Instead, they passed a continuing resolution that funds the government at 2013 levels through Jan. 15. The agreement leaves sequestration in place, along with restrictions that have prevented military service chiefs from shifting funds to higher-priority projects.
“As with any continuing resolution, which only provides funding for part of the year, some spending restrictions will likely remain in place until we get full year funding,” Moran wrote.
Stars and Stripes reporter Kent Harris contributed to this report.