WASHINGTON Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a surprise announcement Saturday that he would recall next week almost all of the 400,000 civilian employees of the Defense Department who had been sent home when the government shut down.
Hagel said the decision that “most DOD civilians” would now be exempted from furloughs came after Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers interpreted a stopgap budget law to include a larger number of workers.
When the government shut down, about half of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce of 800,000 was ordered to stay home; military personnel are automatically exempted from the shutdown.
In a letter released Saturday, Hagel said that government lawyers now said that under the Pay Our Military Act, the Defense Department can “eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.”
The act was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama before the government shut down in order to make sure the military was paid.
That language was now being interpreted as requiring the work of far more Pentagon civilian employees, most of whom work at installations outside Washington.
“I expect us to be able to significantly reduce - but not eliminate - civilian furloughs under this process,” Hagel said.
Hagel warned that “many important activities remain curtailed while the shutdown goes on,” and he cited disruptions across the armed services.