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US troops in combat zones could lose pay if government shuts down

Airmen prepare the interior of a C-130J Super Hercules cargo aircraft in East Africa, Dec. 3, 2017.

GUSTAVO CASTILLO/U.S. AIR FORCE

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. troops in combat zones would be forced to work without pay if the federal government shuts down this week, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.

“I cannot emphasize too much how destructive a shutdown is,” said David Norquist, the Pentagon comptroller. “The disruption of this ripples through the organization, and it is very destructive.”

Shutting down the government would force uniformed military personnel, including deployed troops, to work unpaid until after the federal government reopens, he said.

A shutdown would also halt death benefit payments to Gold Star families and force unpaid furloughs on thousands of Defense Department civilians, Pentagon officials said. Only civilians working in positions considered exempted -- typically jobs involving asset or personnel protection or directly supporting combat operations -- would work during a shutdown.

The White House on Thursday expressed optimism lawmakers would be able to strike a temporary deal to avert a federal government shutdown, which would occur at midnight Friday when the current continuing resolution to fund the government expires.

“We expect a clean [continuing resolution] to pass,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary. The new continuing resolution would likely be a two-week deal aimed at giving lawmakers additional time to strike an agreement to pass a full budget.

Nonetheless, Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Thursday had not yet agreed to terms to avoid a shutdown.

Ultimately, a government shutdown would be wasteful of taxpayer money, Norquist said Thursday.

For example, Defense Department policy would require servicemembers serving temporary assignments, such as military school or training, away from their home stations to be sent home until the shutdown is lifted, when the department would have to send the individual back to the temporary duty location.

Additionally, civilian employees could eventually be paid for the furlough days that they did not work. The last time the federal government shut down for 16 days in October 2013, Congress eventually voted to pay civilians for the days that they were furloughed.

“It’s tremendously wasteful,” Norquist said.

A shutdown would be the only worse situation for the Defense Department than operating perpetually on continuing resolutions, known as CRs, he said.

The Pentagon has operated under continuing resolutions for nearly three years, said Dana White, a Pentagon spokeswoman, urging lawmakers to pass the $700 billion defense bill recently passed by both chambers of Congress. But that will require congressional action to end the budget cap of $549 billion on defense spending.

White said she was “optimistic” Congress could fund the bill, which includes money to provide servicemembers a raise, increase the size of the military force and purchase upgraded ships and aircraft.

“Nothing’s had a greater impact on combat readiness than” continuing resolutions, White said. “In a time where our security threats are high, we really do need the certainty and the budget security that we don’t have with CRs.”

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dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

 

Soldiers lift a log during a battalion endurance event at Torii Station, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 30 , 2017. U.S. troops in combat zones would be forced to work without pay if the federal government shuts down, top Pentagon officials said Thursday.
KWADWO FRIMPONG/U.S. ARMY

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