THE PENTAGON: That question is what America’s allies asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and other senior national security leaders over the last few weeks as they watched agog as the world’s biggest economy and military came perilously close to systemic failure.
“Our allies are asking questions: Can we rely on our partnership with America? Will America fulfill its commitments and promises?” Hagel told reporters during a briefing held to answer questions about today’s end of the three-week long federal government shutdown.
The Pentagon saw $600 million vanish because of “lost productivity” from civilian workers furloughed as a result of the shutdown, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told us. (That’s a statistic we’re sure the Republicans are unlikely to mention when they discuss the shutdown.)
Also, Hagel said the Pentagon couldn’t go ahead with any new weapons programs. (We’re still waiting for a list of which particular ones). Hale added later that new starts remain dead in the water because they aren’t allowed by the Continuing Resolution passed by Congress to keep the government funded through the end of the year. A “CR” lets the government keep spending at last year’s levels, plus or minus some percent, but that only permits the Pentagon to continue existing programs: A CR doesn’t allow it to start anything new — or for that matter to stop doing things it’s decided are a waste of money and time.
What programs had to be put on hold? “There are no huge ones. There are a number of smaller ones,” said Hale, who confessed he couldn’t remember the list. “One of the biggest problems is we have to buy the same number of ships as we bought last year.”
The gravest impact on the military and its civilian contractors, Hagel and Hale said, is on morale.
Aside from the immediate question of when and whether they would get paid, civilian employees and the military are looking at careers and their employer.
“People have to have some confidence they have a job they can rely on,” Hagel said. “We won’t be able to recruit good people.” He gave the example of a question he recently got from a member of the military: “My wife asked me to ask you: do I have a future?”
It’s a question that, at this point, only Congress can really answer. Later on, voters will have the chance to express their opinion.