Hagel: Furloughed Pentagon civilians to be recalled back to work
WASHINGTON — Defense Department civilians who support "the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members" will soon be recalled from furlough, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday.
That applies to most – but not all – of 350,000 furloughed civilian workers, Hagel said in a statement that directed the military services and other DOD components to begin quickly identifying workers who could return.
"I expect us to be able to significantly reduce – but not eliminate – civilian furloughs under this process," Hagel wrote. "Employees can expect to hear more information from their managers starting this weekend."
The decision was based on a law, the "Pay Our Military Act," passed Monday on the eve of the government shutdown. The law authorized Hagel to not only pay military members as well as civilians already been classified as "excepted" and ordered to stay on the job -- it also gave him latitude to order an end to furloughs for many, he said.
"The Department of Defense consulted closely with the Department of Justice, which expressed its view that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians," Hagel wrote. "However, DoD and DOJ attorneys concluded that the law does allow the Department of Defense to eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members."
In a memo to DOD leaders and department heads, Hagel wrote that there were two broad categories of workers eligible to be recalled. One includes civilians who provide direct support to servicemembers and their families – ranging from health care providers and military trainers to weapons maintainers and commissary workers.
The other category includes those who “contribute to sustaining capabilities and Force Readiness” whose furloughs would impact servicemembers’ ability to carry out future missions, Hagel wrote. Those include civilians working in acquisitions programs, in depot-level maintenance, intelligence and information technology.
Those not eligible to be recalled include furloughed civilians who work in programs broadly dedicated to departmental efficiency and oversight, including auditor functions, and those whose works supports non-DOD activities and agencies.
But while many civilian employees will be able to go back to work soon, the DOD still does not have the authority to spend money on supplies or fuel for non-essential functions, DOD comptroller Robert Hale told reporters in a Saturday afternoon conference call.
“We’re glad we’re getting more employees back,” he said, but the problems created by the lapse in appropriations have not all been solved.
Hagel said all DOD employees are essential to national defense, but the specific wording of the law that passed through Congress and was signed by President Barack Obama on Monday forced him to zero in only on DOD employees who support uniformed military members.
“I want to make clear that every DOD employee makes and essential contribution to the Department’s ability to carry out its mission of defending the Nation,” he said. “However, under this Act, we must determine who provides support to the members of the Armed Forces in active service, in a way that respects Congress’s specific appropriation.”
Hale said the service branches must examine the law and the DOJ guidance to determine who exactly will be allowed back to work, though he believes more than 90 percent of furloughed civilian employees will be recalled.
Still, he said, the shutdown has “seriously damaged civilian morale” and is damaging readiness – which had already taken a hit from sequestration.
And though service members and recalled civilian employees will be paid “in a timely manner,” Hale said, inactive duty drills by guard and reserve members, training activities that aren’t considered “essential” and death gratuities are still on hold until the government shutdown ends.