WASHINGTON: If the shutdown of the federal government could get more depressing today, it did. Senior House Republicans, clearly worried about angry constituents, began to press Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and — by extension — the Obama administration to end the furloughs of the 400,000 civilian defense workers.
Rep. Buck McKeon, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote Hagel a letter arguing that a brand new bill, HR 3210, should mean that “most civilian defense workers should remain on the job.” McKeon told Hagel he believes the Pay Our Military Act, signed into law last night, “provides you broad latitude and I encourage you to use it.” The law, McKeon writes, does not mention “essential” or “excepted” personnel so all civilian workers should be free to go back to work since the administration doesn’t have to decide who is essential and who isn’t.
Rep. Mike Turner, who has many civilian contractors working at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in his district, joined the chorus late this evening.
“Today I challenged Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on the Wright-Patterson AFB furloughs. I sent a letter to Secretary Hagel demanding he immediately reinstate the hardworking men and women at WPAFB,” Turner said in a statement released by his office.
The law does seem to pretty clearly indicate civilian defense workers should be paid, along with members of the armed forces: “such sums as are necessary to provide pay and allowances to the civilian personnel of the Department of Defense (and the Department of Homeland Security in the case of the Coast Guard) whom the Secretary concerned determines are providing support to members of the Armed Forces…”
However, the civilians and uniformed military are all to be paid “out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for any period during which interim or full-year appropriations for fiscal year 2014 are not in effect” and you can be sure neither Congress nor the administration is certain — given that they can’t even produce auditable books — just how much money there is to pay the troops, let alone the civilians, over the next few weeks, especially since this bill was only passed in the early hours of Monday and didn’t become law until later in the day. Also, what exactly does “providing support to members of the Armed Forces” mean? Does every civilian provide support? McKeon and his colleagues obviously think everyone should go back to work.
This all shows how much the GOP fears being blamed for furloughs in their districts.
Hagel, traveling in South Korea, told reporters there that Pentagon’s attorneys were reviewing the legislation “to see if there’s any margin here or widening in the interpretation of the law regarding exempt versus non-exempt civilians.” But it’s not clear yet. “We don’t know if that’s the case, but we are exploring that, so that we could cut back from the furloughs some of the civilians that had to leave,” he said.
McKeon closes his letter to Hagel with this: “I know that you would agree with me that this is not a time to use national security or our national security workforce as a political pawn.” Of course not, Mr. Chairman. Neither would you.
Our favorite government shutdown stupidity of the day comes to us courtesy of the Naval War College: a professor there received emails from students asking if they should come to class since they had not been told not to. Some of them used personal email accounts so they would not be considered to be working. “Apparently reading and responding on govt account would be a violation of federal law. You can’t make this stuff up…,” the professor wrote.
Later, the prof clarified just what they were allowed to do: “Apparently for four hours this morning we were still working and so email was allowed till noon. From here on out though — no can use office email to communicate with students.”