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When the Obama administration acted to furlough 815,239 federal government employees as part of the partial shutdown of the U.S. government in the absence of having passed a budget or a continuing resolution to continue funding government operations, just under half of that number, 400,000, came from the Department of Defense’s civilian labor force.
In a surprise development over the weekend, Defense secretary Chuck Hagel recalled most of those employees back to work.
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made a surprise announcement on 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.
Mr. Hagel said the decision that “most D.O.D. civilians” would now be exempted from furloughs came after Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers interpreted a budget law passed just before the shutdown to include a larger number of workers.
The act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama as the government began to shut down, was intended to ensure that the military continued to be 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.
With the passage of the “Pay Our Military Act”, the Obama administration should never have targeted so many of these not so non-essential government workers with furlough notices. Many of the furloughed defense employees work in repair and maintenance functions that directly support military activities and operations, while many others inspect work done by defense contractors, ensuring that work meets required specifications.
That the Obama administration acted to furlough so many of these employees, in spite of the law that President Obama signed just days ago, speaks to its desire to inflict as much pain as possible upon the U.S. economy to achieve its political aims. In this case, beyond the direct impact of not paying federal employees, the furloughing of many of the Defense department’s inspectors would result in the suspension of work and layoffs at defense contractors around the country.
The heads of the Aerospace Industries Association and the National Defense Industrial Association said in a letter to Hagel that defense companies are planning to idle thousands of workers as a result of the lack of civilian inspectors who are required to be on site to monitor their projects.
The letter makes no mention of the troop-pay law but indicates the industry would like to see Hagel use any legislative authority he has to put those inspectors back on the job so contractors can get on with their work.
“It’s a crisis,” one defense lobbyist said of industry’s inability to move forward on major weapons programs without government inspectors there to monitor them.
“It’s intentionally being engineered by the administration to make national security an issue during the shutdown,” the lobbyist added, requesting not to be identified to offer a candid take on the issue.
That kind of thinking is also why the Obama administration is taking such extreme steps to shut down the American people’s access to their national parks and memorials, and in one case, the ocean, with the explicit purpose of causing economic damage to the businesses and communities adjacent to them to advance their political goals, but that’s a separate topic that’s worthy of its own discussion.
The good news in this action however is that the economic impact of the government shutdown to the nation will be cut by more than half, despite the Obama administration’s ambitions to spread it as widely as possible.
Department of Defense