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Defense Department to end most civilian employee furloughs

Oct. 5, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has ordered most Pentagon civilians back to work. (Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of furloughed Defense Department employees will be back on the job as early as Monday, under a decision announced this weekend. The move follows congressional passage last week of the Pay Our Military Act, which allows the Pentagon to recall workers and contractors deemed to be providing support to uniformed service members.

Although the new law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians furloughed because of the partial government shutdown, Defense and Justice Department lawyers concluded that it does allow DoD to bring back “employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a Saturday statement.

“Consequently, I am now directing the military departments and other DoD components to move expeditiously to identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories,” Hagel continued. “I expect us to be able to significantly reduce — but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process.”

The newly passed act will also allow DoD to pay working employees on time, Hagel indicated in a separate memorandum. Employees should get more information from their supervisors this weekend, he said.

The same day, DoD provided a revised count of the number of employees thrown out of work by the shutdown.

Last week, officials had put the number of furloughed civilians at about 400,000, or roughly half the department’s total workforce. In a Saturday conference call with reporters, Defense Comptroller Robert Hale said the “more accurate” tally of furloughed employees is roughly 350,000, or 47 percent of a paid workforce of 750,000. Of those sent home without pay, Hale said, “my guess is that we’ll bring most of them back, but no more than a few tens of thousands will remain on furlough, and it may be substantially less than that.”

Employees going back to work include those working in commissaries, health care, acquisition program oversight, contract logistics, financial management and supply chain management. But the Pentagon will continue to furlough auditors, legislative affairs workers, and “staff functions” associated with the deputy chief management officer and chief information officer, Hale said.

Hale was hopeful that many workers could return to their jobs by Monday, but added that the military services first need to notify those who are eligible to go back to work. The Pay Our Military Act will also cover Department of Homeland Security employees who support the Coast Guard. The new law will have no effect on furloughed workers at other agencies, Hale said. The Pentagon is still studying how the law will affect payments to contractors, he said.

The shutdown began Tuesday after lawmakers and the Obama administration failed to agree on the terms of a stop-gap spending bill to keep agencies in operation past the end of fiscal 2013. On Saturday, the House unanimously passed a bill that would give back pay to all furloughed workers across the government once the shutdown ends. The Senate could vote early this week to send the measure to President Obama for his signature.

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