Most Pentagon workers will be returning from furloughs on Monday. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
The US Government Shutdown
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department announced late Saturday afternoon that more than 90 percent of the 350,000 civilian employees it had furloughed on Oct. 1 will be able to go back to work as soon as Monday.
Pentagon comptroller Bob Hale said that the Pay Our Military Act — which Congress passed on Sept. 30 just hours before the government shut its doors — would allow many of DoD civilians who perform essential activities to come back to work, but contractors are not included among their number.
Since the government shutdown began, “we have stopped everything” save for critical activities that run operations in Afghanistan, Hale told reporters Saturday, adding that “it is very disruptive to the planning process” for sequestration as well.
“We’ve had to stop training activities, especially those that are not closely related to military operations, so it’s damaging our readiness,” which was already in decline due to budget cuts already enacted, he said.
Hale announced the categories of DoD civilians who would be eligible to come back to work on Monday, including those who are working on supporting combat operations in Afghanistan, along with civilians who provide ongoing support activities such as healthcare, commissaries, and critical logistics and maintenance functions.
Also included are staffers who work on acquisition, program oversight, and supply chain management, including — significantly — government inspectors who work with the defense industry to inspect their production lines.
“We will be bringing those inspectors back under [the Pay Our Military Act] I hope soon and we will be able to start the inspections,” at production plants that churn out helicopters, ground vehicles, and everything else that keeps the military humming, Hale told reporters.
Last week, defense industry giants Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Sikorsky, and Boeing announced thousands of employee furloughs due to lack of government inspectors and contract management personnel.
Asked if the company would cancel the 3,000 furloughs announced Friday, Lockheed spokesman Gordron Johndroe said “it's too early to say. We welcome the announcement and will remain in close contact with the Pentagon. We're hopeful our programs and contracts can move forward and there is minimal negative impact on our employees."
A Boeing spokesperson said that “we have not received any information from our defense customers about plans to reinstate part of their workforce, therefore it would be inappropriate to speculate about what it might mean for Boeing employees and operations.”
The company said that it was still assessing how many furloughs it would have to issue due to the shutdown.
While the government inspectors will be coming back to work Hale didn’t know exactly when they would be able to assume their duties, but he estimated that it would be a matter of days.
The original announcement of the DoD civilian employee callback came from Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, when he issued a statement saying that Defense and Justice Department lawyers had concluded that the DoD can bring back “employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities, and readiness of service members.”
While not all furloughed civilians would be able to come back, Hagel said that he had directed “the military departments and other DoD components to move expeditiously to identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories.” He cautioned that “I expect us to be able to significantly reduce —but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process.”
While the department announced the categories of employees that would be recalled, Hale was reluctant to get into too much detail since his office was still awaiting word from the services about who they want to bring back. He was also unable to say when the services would report back to him.
Lawmakers were quick to applaud the move.
"I am very pleased to see so many of our national security workforce will be able to return to work," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said Saturday in a statement.
"Congress gave the Executive Branch broad authority to keep our Armed Forces and dedicated defense civilians working throughout the government shutdown," McKeon said. "Though I do not believe the law required these hundreds of thousands of workers to be furloughed in the first place, it is welcome news."