House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., says the 'Pay Our Military Act' provides broad latitude, and he encouraged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to use it. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The Defense Department should use a newly signed law to exempt as many civilian employees as possible from unpaid furloughs, a key lawmaker said Tuesday.
The “Pay Our Military Act,” sponsored by Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., allows the government to pay active-duty service members on time, along with all civilian and contract employees deemed necessary to support them. “I believe the legislation provides you broad latitude and I encourage you to use it,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., wrote in a Tuesday letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
About half of DoD’s approximately 800,000 civilian workers are on furlough because of the partial government shutdown that began Tuesday. After President Obama signed the bill, Hagel said that lawyers from the Pentagon, Justice Department and Office of Management and Budget are studying the legislation “to see if there’s any margin here or widening in the interpretation of the law regarding exempt versus non-exempt civilians.” Although unable to say when a decision will be made, “it’s a priority that we have and that we’re working on right now,” Hagel said.
A DoD spokesman declined further comment Wednesday.