WASHINGTON -- Hundreds of thousands of Defense Department civilians who were released from furlough Monday began filtering back into workplaces worldwide as supervisors throughout the department struggled to make sure everyone knew their status.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced an end to furloughs Saturday afternoon, and some officials said privately that the weekend timing made the recall effort chaotic.
Commanders and supervisors had to interpret guidance from Hagel to decide which of the furloughed workers could return, and which would remain home from work.
But for those still out of work, the prospect of prolonged furloughs began looking less grim Saturday after the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a measure that would pay furloughed workers for the time they missed. President Barack Obama supports the measure, and the Senate is expected to approve it as well.
The “Pay Our Military Act” passed on the eve of the current government shutdown doesn’t allow all DoD workers to return, Hagel announced Saturday.
“The Department of Defense consulted closely with the Department of Justice, which expressed its view that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians,” Hagel said in a message Saturday. “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 servicemembers.”
Officials guessed that 90 percent of 350,000 furloughed workers fit that definition, but still don’t have precise estimates.
“I don’t know exactly how many people we’ll bring back yet,” DoD comptroller Robert F. Hale told reporters Saturday. “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.”
Those not eligible to return include furloughed workers involved with audits, legislative and public affairs, Army Corps of Engineers officials.
Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway said the Army’s 154,000 furloughed civilians learned over the weekend whether they would work through the remainder of the government shutdown, but said it was too early to provide a numerical breakdown.
“We are still tallying those that have returned and those that are still furloughed,” she said.
The Navy, meanwhile, announced Sunday that all Navy and Marine Corps civilians should return to work, and supervisors would call those who were staying home.
“It’s mainly a notification issue now, and making sure everyone is aware,” said Lt. Caroline Hutcheson, a Navy spokeswoman.
U.S. Air Forces in Europe, however, told its civilian employees not to get too wrapped up in categories – all civilians should return regardless of their job.
“Headquarters Air Force has directed that ALL, repeat, ALL USAFE GS Civilian employees return to work at their regular scheduled time beginning on Monday, 7 Oct 2013,” according to a message on the command’s Facebook page. “Please don’t be confused by the news reports that discuss categories of employees who are not excepted or recalled because these are applicable only at levels above the Major Command.”