Government Shutdown FY2014: Day Five – Good News for DOD Civilian Employees

Government Shutdown FY2014: Day Five – Good News for DOD Civilian Employees

While there was no progress today in resolving the issues that led to the government shutdown, federal employees and defense contractors got a little bit of good news. 

A large portion of civilian DOD employees are being called back to work on Monday and some defense contractors may also be able to be paid.  Separately,  the House passed a bill to ensure that furloughed federal employees will eventually be paid.

The House and Senate both were in session today and both have now gone home until Monday.  The House continued to work on several narrowly focused bills to fund specific federal activities.  Senate Democrats and President Obama have rejected that tactic overall, insisting that the entire government must be allowed to return to work.  

However, on the eve of the shutdown last Monday, all parties agreed to a bill through which military servicemembers will be paid during the shutdown rather than having to wait until the situation is resolved.   That law, the Pay Our Military Act, included other language and today Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that DOD lawyers have interpreted it broadly to allow Hagel to call back to work a large portion of the 350,000-400,000 civilian DOD employees who were furloughed.  The law also allows the Secretary of Defense to pay contractors providing support to members of the Armed Services in active service.

Hagel is recalling civilian workers under a provision of the law that says civilian personnel “whom the Secretary … determines are providing support to members of the Armed Forces” may be paid.  Some news sources are reporting that he is recalling everyone, but his memo does not say that.  Instead Hagel writes that “I fervently hope that the time will be short until I can recall all employees” of DOD.   He also points out that the law allows personnel to be paid, but does not provide funds to purchase equipment or supplies, for example, so if the shutdown continues for an extended period, the time may come when “workers are unable to do their work [and] I will be forced to send them home again.” 

While many DOD civilian employees are being called back to work, there are another 400,000-500,000 furloughed federal employees who are not and have no guarantee of ever being paid.  However, today the House passed the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act by a vote of 407-0 (with 25 members not voting) that says furloughed feds will be paid — eventually.  They will have to wait until the government resumes operations, but if the bill is agreed by the Senate and the President, they can at least rest a little easier that the money will be there at some point.  The Senate adjourned for the day without taking up the bill, but the White House praised it in a Statement of Administration Policy.

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