Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday that most of the 400,000 civilian personnel who were furloughed without pay in the government shutdown would be recalled to work next week.
The announcement came after the House on Saturday morning voted 407-0 to pass a bill authorizing retroactive pay for the more than 800,000 federal workers in all departments and agencies who were furloughed on Oct. 1 when Congress failed to agree on a continuing resolution for funding the government.
The Senate was expected to agree on the retroactive pay bill and the White House has said that President Obama would sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.
In a statement, Hagel said the recall of Defense civilian personnel was based on a broad interpretation of the “Pay Our Military Act,” signed into law earlier this week by Obama, which guaranteed that basic pay and housing allowances for military personnel would continue during the shutdown.
Along with calling most civilians back to work next week, Hagel also specified that Reservists and Guardsmen under Title 32 orders will be paid on time. Last week, Pentagon officials had said the legislation only protected the pay of Title 10 servicemembers.
Thus, most Guard and Reservist drills had been canceled. It’s unclear if this announcement will reverse that decision and have Guard and Reserve units report back to previously canceled drils.
Hagel said that the Department of Justice ruled that the Pay Our Military Act “does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians” to their DoD jobs. The Defense Department has scheduled a 5 p.m. EST call with defense reporters to elaborate on this announcement.
“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.
Defense Department officials established two categories of civilians and contractors who will be called back to work next week. The first include those civilians and contractors “whose responsibilities provide support to service members performing active service and their families on an ongoing basis.” Examples of those workers include employees in the base commissaries, payroll, health care, and transition assistance programs, according to the guidance.
The second category includes those employees with a “causal connection between the failure to perform the activity during the duration of an appropriations lapse and a negative impact on military members in the future,” according to the DoD guidance. Workers in this category include those fulfilling intelligence, information technology and acquisition functions, according to the guidance.
“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 said.
“I expect us to be able to significantly reduce – but not eliminate – civilian furloughs under this process,” Hagel said. “Employees can expect to hear more information from their managers starting this weekend.”
DoD lawyers were still considering whether the law would also permit the continuation of various programs for incentive pay, enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses and tuition assistance while Congress remains deadlocked on funding the government.
“I fervently hope that the time will be short until I can recall all employees of the Department of Defense back to the vital work that they do helping to defend this nation and secure our future,” Hagel said. “I will continue to explore all possibilities to this end.”
However, Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate showed few signs of ending their impasse on whether delays or defunding of the Affordable Care Act should be included in a continuing resolution funding bill to end the shutdown.
House Republicans have adopted the tactic of passing piecemeal bills to fund popular federal agencies such as the Veterans Administration, the National Park Service and the National Institutes of Health.
Senate Democrats and the White House have rejected the Republican tactic, arguing that Congress has a duty to pass a bill funding the entire government.