US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ((Jacquelyn Martin/Getty Images))
Most furloughed Defense Department civilians are returning to work on Monday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced just before 3 p.m. Saturday that “most DoD civilians placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown will be asked to return to work beginning next week.”
Those being called back will be contacted by their managers, Hagel said.
Roughly half of the 800,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department were furloughed last week when government funding lapsed. Early Saturday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to provide full pay for furloughed employees and the White House has endorsed the idea. It is unclear, though, if the next paychecks for civilians returning from furlough will cover the missed days if the government funding issue is not resolved.
Congress attempted to exempt the majority of defense civilians and many defense contractors from furloughs by including passing legislation that provided funding for pay and allowances for federal civilians and defense contractors engaged “in support” of the active-duty armed forces. The provision was included in the Pay Our Military Act, a measure that also promised no gap in military pay. That measure was signed into law shortly before the government shutdown began at midnight Oct. 1.
Members of Congress have been angry that the Defense Department furloughed about half of the workforce even though the new law had been enacted, accusing the Obama administration of intentionally increasing the pain of a partial government shutdown as a negotiating tool.
In his announcement, Hagel said he had asked Pentagon lawyers for a legal opinion on the scope of the Pay Our Military Act “immediately after” it was signed.
Pentagon lawyers consulted with the U.S. Justice Department, Hagel said, “which expressed its view that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians. 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.”
Hagel said a process is underway to determine which civilians meet that definition.
“I am now directing the military departments and other DoD components to move expeditiously to identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories,” he said. “I expect us to be able to significantly reduce – but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process.”
“We have tried to exempt as many DoD civilian personnel as possible from furloughs,” Hagel said. “we will continue to try to bring all civilian employees back to work as soon as possible.”
Hagel acknowledged the blow to morale of the government shutdown. “This has been a very disruptive year for our people — including active duty, National Guard and reserve personnel, and DoD civilians and contractors,” he said. “Many important activities remain curtailed while the shutdown goes on.”
Hagel said he supported the legislative moving through Congress to provide backpay for furloughed workers.
“Civilians under furlough face the uncertainty of not knowing when they will next receive a paycheck. I strongly support efforts in Congress to enact legislation to retroactively compensate all furloughed employees.”