Pentagon Details Furlough Recalls, Congress Committee Chief Comments

First Lady Michelle Obama thanks military members and civilian employees for their service at the Pentagon on April 9, 2010

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Washington, DC – The Defense Department’s top financial official provided details on which DOD civilians would and wouldn’t be able to return from furlough following Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s determination some could return under the Pay Our Military Act (POMA).

Robert F. Hale, DOD comptroller and chief financial officer, first and foremost, emphasized that the defense secretary values all DOD employees and views their jobs as critical, even though some will be unable to return immediately, and described it as a “painful” decision. “They do essential and important work, and I want to underscore that, but it is less directly related to military [support],” Hale said. In a couple of cases, he noted, certain areas simply were not covered by POMA, which was signed into law on September 30.

Hale said areas here included chief information officer functions, but not Internet protocol and cyber functions; legislative and public affairs functions, but not internal public affairs communications; deputy chief management office functions at the Office of the Secretary of Defense and component levels, and auditors and related functions.

This list also included, according to a Defense Department news release, work done in support of non-DOD activities and agencies except the Coast Guard, and civil works functions of the Department of the Army.

“Let me say again that those on this list that we’re not going to recall from furlough do critical functions,” Hale said. “What they do is important, but because of the letter of the law, and the advice from the Department of Justice, we had to identify those with less direct impact on military members.”

Hale explained how the Defense Department came to the determination they could bring some DOD civilians back.

“When we got POMA … we immediately began working with the Department of Justice on how to implement it,” he said. “The (Department of Justice) expressed the opinion that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all DOD civilians.”

The Department of Justice did say that we can undertake a careful review of civilians who support members of the armed forces and determine who to recall,” Hale added. “Needless to say, it has been a difficult process and time consuming one, but we now have … guidance, which the secretary issued in his determination today.”

Hale said under DOD’s current reading of the law, the standard for civilians who provide support to members of the armed forces requires that qualifying civilians focus on the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of military members that occurs during a lapse of appropriations.

With this in mind, he said, DOD established categories of civilians beginning with some excepted civilians who already are working to ensure military operations of safety, lives and property.”

“They’ll be working now, and under POMA, we can pay them in a timely manner – their October 11 pay will be on time and in full,” Hale stated.

The Pentagon comptroller highlighted two categories of DOD civilians that, under POMA, the Defense Department will recall, and he noted the act ensures the military will be paid on a timely basis “next payday, October 15, and future ones.”

“We’ll recall a category of civilians who provide ongoing support to military members,” he said, such as health care activities and providers, sexual assault prevention and response providers, behavior health and suicide prevention, transition assistance programs for military members in active service, commissary and payroll operations and family support programs and activities, among others.

“We’ll also recall a second category of civilians whose work, if interrupted by the lapse for a substantial period, would cause future problems for military members,” Hale said.

Falling into this category, he said, are acquisition program oversight, contract logistics, financial management, intelligence functions and supply chain management.

Hale said it also appears an act approving retroactive pay will be approved soon, because while Senate approval is pending, “the House passed it 407-0 and the president has said he would sign it.”

“If this act is passed, everyone, even if they remain on furlough, will eventually be paid,” he said. “Those who remain on furlough will not be paid until we have an appropriation.”

Hale also offered a “final note of caution” stating DOD can recall “most of our civilians and provide pay and allowances,” but doesn’t have the authorities to enter into obligations for supplies, parts, fuels, and such unless they are for excepted activities tied to “safety to a military operation or safety of life and property.”

“So as our people come back to work, they’ll need to be careful that they do not order supplies [or] material for non-excepted activities,” he said.

Hale said the military services will be responsible for identifying those they will recall, and believes it will leave no more than “a few tens of thousands who will remain on furlough,” if not less than that.

“I hope we can get a substantial number back by Monday, we’ve got to give the services time enough to identify and notify those that will come back,” he said.

Unfortunately, Hale said, the law doesn’t cover other departments of government, only “DOD employees and those employees of the Department of Homeland Security that support the Coast Guard.”

“I think this underscores the point that although this is very important and we’re glad we’re getting most of our employees back, we haven’t solved all the problems associated with the lapse of appropriations by any means,” he said.

“And we still very much hope that Congress will act quickly to end this government shutdown and this lapse of appropriations,” Hale said.

Earlier Defense Secretary Hagel announced he is recalling most of the Defense Department civilians who were placed on furlough as a result of the government shutdown which began October 1.

“Immediately after President [Barack] Obama signed the Pay Our Military Act into law, I directed DOD’s acting general counsel to determine whether we could reduce the number of civilian personnel furloughed due to the shutdown,” Hagel said.

The defense secretary said the department has tried to “exempt as many DOD civilian personnel as possible” from furloughs, and will continue to try to bring all civilian employees back to work as soon as possible.

“Ultimately, the surest way to end these damaging and irresponsible furloughs, and to enable us to fulfill our mission as a department, is for Congress to pass a budget and restore funds for the entire federal government,” Hagel said.

“This has been a very disruptive year for our people – including active duty, National Guard and reserve personnel, and DOD civilians and contractors,” he said. “Many important activities remain curtailed while the shutdown goes on.”

Congressman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee in a statement said, “I am very pleased to see so many of our national security workforce will be able to return to work. Congress gave the Executive Branch broad authority to keep our Armed Forces and dedicated defense civilians working throughout the government shutdown.”

“Though I do not believe the law required these hundreds of thousands of workers to be furloughed in the first place, it is welcome news,” added Congressman McKeon of the Republican party which is widely considered responsible for the federal government shutdown.

(American Forces Press Service contributed to the report) 

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