The return to work of most civilian personnel Monday left the Defense Department with still unresolved matters of troop incentive pay, bonuses and tuition assistance to confront without a budget appropriation during the continuing government shutdown.
The Defense Finance and Accounting Service lists more than 60 categories of incentive pay, ranging from the Hazardous Duty/Imminent Danger pay of $225 monthly for the 54,000 troops in Afghanistan to flight pay, jump pay, flight deck pay, demolitions pay and other incentive and specialty pays.
Pentagon officials, speaking on background, said the intent was to honor all current incentive and special pay commitments. However, the officials said that DoD lawyers and personnel chiefs were drawing up a list of the incentive pay programs that would be suspended if the government shutdown continues past the next payday on Oct. 15.
The “Pay Our Military Act” signed by President Obama just before the shutdown went into effect on Oct. 1 guaranteed basic pay and housing allowances, but left unclear other matters such as incentive pay. Congressional Republicans have urged the Defense Department to interpret the act broadly to include incentive pays.
The Navy initially said that special pay and enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses would be delayed in a shutdown, but later announced that the programs would continue when the Pay Our Military Act was signed.
The guidance thus far issued by DoD was also unclear on how the Department would handle tuition assistance as well as enlistment and re-enlistment bonuses for all the services past Oct. 15.
DoD lawyers and personnel heads must also take into account that the effects of the shutdown for the military could be greatly exacerbated if Congress also fails to raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 17, meaning that the Treasury Department would run out of money to pay the government’s bills.
During the shutdown, the Marine Corps has suspended tuition assistance, which amounted to $47 million last year for nearly 26,000 Marines. Tuition assistance will be renewed when the Defense Department gets an appropriation for a budget, but tuition assistance that has been suspended will not be paid retroactively, Marine officials said.
Pentagon officials on Monday did not have an immediate count of how many of the more than 350,000 DoD civilian personnel who were furloughed on Oct. 1 had returned to work under the action by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the weekend in issuing the recall order.
A group of civilians who did return to work Monday were those who work in payroll to ensure troops who receive pay checks in the middle of the month get paid on time.
Hagel said that the vast majority were being recalled but those not eligible to return during the shutdown included personnel involved in audits, legislative affairs and public affairs.
"You've heard that we are bringing back many of our civilian teammates, but a significant number of them will not return,” acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said in a message to all airmen.
When the government shut down last week in the battle over budgets and Obamacare, the Air Force furloughed 104,000 civilian personnel. It was unclear as of Monday afternoon how many of the 104,000 were being recalled, but Fanning said “we will not be a fully-functioning organization until the last member returns.”