U.S. soldiers cross a bridge in Kunar province, Afghanistan, in November 2009. If the government shuts down, troops will be required to go to work, but if the shutdown drags on, they may miss a paycheck. (File photo / Army)
Troops could be required to report to work without pay if a budget clash in Congress results in a government-wide shutdown, according to draft planning guidance circulating in the Pentagon.
A shutdown could happen as early as next week, as the government is set to run out of money at midnight March 17. A bill that would keep the government operating temporarily has been prepared in the House of Representatives, but it is not clear when or if it might pass.
The government has been operating under a series of temporary appropriations, known as continuing resolutions, since Oct. 1 because of lawmakers' inability to agree on how much money to provide federal agencies. Budget discussions have become increasingly complicated since the November general elections resulted in a divided legislature, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate.
When the government was shut down in 1995, military personnel continued to report to work and were paid, but the planning guidance sent to the services and defense agencies says a shutdown this time will be different.
"All military personnel will continue in normal duty status regardless of their affiliation with exempt or non-exempt activities," says the draft planning guidance that was prepared for the services and defense agencies. "Military personnel will serve without pay until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service."
Troops would miss a payday only if the shutdown continues through April 1.
Defense civilian workers would be divided into two categories. "Essential" employees would be required to report to work even though they will not be paid; "nonessential" employees would be furloughed, according to the memo.
Troops and essential civilians who report for work without pay would receive back pay when government funding is restored. But whether furloughed civilians would receive back pay could depend on whether Congress specifically authorizes that, according to congressional aides who have been doing their own shutdown planning.
The memo, prepared in early March but never formally issued as guidance, attempts to spell out what defense missions would shut down and what would stay open in the event funding stops.
• Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will continue, including preparations for any units scheduled for deployment.
• Operations necessary for national security, safety of human life and protection of property will continue, but operations that don't meet one of those three criteria will be "shut down in an orderly and deliberate fashion."
• Recruiting offices, processing centers and basic training will remain operational.
• Emergency repairs and maintenance that cannot be deferred will be done on base facilities and housing.
• Medical and dental facilities will remain open, although elective surgery and procedures will be postponed. Suicide, substance abuse counseling and crisis intervention will continue.
• Dependents schools and education centers for service members will be open for use by private agencies for courses for which payment already has been made.
• Dining halls, gyms and child care centers will stay open.
• Base exchanges may remain open because they operate using nonappropriated funds. But commissaries, which are supported by taxpayer funds, may be closed, although the memo says military personnel might be assigned to replace furloughed civilians so the grocery stores could remain open.