WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is ordering most of its approximately 400,000 furloughed civilian employees back to work.
The decision announced today by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is based on a Pentagon legal interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act. That measure was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama shortly before the partial government shutdown began Tuesday.
In a written statement explaining his action, Hagel said the Department of Justice advised that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all Pentagon civilians.
But government attorneys concluded that the law does allow the Pentagon to eliminate furloughs for “employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.’
Hagel said he has told Pentagon officials, including leaders of the military services, to “identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories.” He said civilian workers should stand by for further word this weekend.
It was unknown Saturday night how the Pentagon’s announcement would affect the more than 1,500 civilian military workers at MacDill Air Force Base and elsewhere in the Tampa area.
Since federal employees were placed on furlough Tuesday, the local defense employees have not gone to work or received pay – estimated to total about $400,000 daily.
Col. Douglas Schwartz, commander of the 927th Air Refueling Wing in Tampa, said Saturday evening it was too early to say how Hagel’s order would affect the wing, which has nearly 155 furloughed civilians. He said he hopes to receive more guidance Sunday.
Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder said U.S. Central Command leaders were reviewing the defense secretary’s action and seeking guidance to determine the affect at the MacDill-based operation.
Hagel had made clear earlier in the past week that Pentagon lawyers were trying to determine ways for some of the Defense Department’s 400,000 furloughed civilians to get back to work.
He told reporters traveling with him Tuesday in South Korea, “It does have an effect on our relationships around the world and it cuts straight to the obvious question: Can you rely on the United States as a reliable partner to fulfill its commitments to its allies?”
The Pentagon did not immediately say today exactly how many workers will return to work. The Defense Department said “most” were being brought back.
The law ensured that members of the military, who have remained at work throughout the shutdown, would be paid on time. It also left room for the Pentagon to keep on the job those civilians who provide support to the military.
Reporter Howard Altman contributed to this report.