It took just four days before the Federal government caved to Congress and admitted that it can’t even operate in a partial, “non-essential” shutdown. A few short hours ago Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered 400,000 furloughed Pentagon civilian employees – or about half the total defense employees – back to work. it is also roughly half of the total employees furloughed since the start of the government shutdown, which is now in its fifth day, and since both the House and the Senate are now gone until Monday afternoon, it appears the shutdown, even if now at half mast will continue for at least a week.
Why did Hagel decide he can get bypass orders and tell government workers they can cut their vacation short? The Hill explains:
After consulting with the Justice Department and Department of Defense legal counsel, Hagel noted furloughed employees could be brought back to the Pentagon, while still complying with federal guidelines governing the shutdown, according to the memo.
Civilian workers at DOD shown to play a role in the “morale, well-being [and]…readiness” of U.S. forces could be brought back, under federal rules, Hagel wrote.
Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale is scheduled to hold a briefing on the details of the recall later today.
The decision was prised by both sides of Congress, even as the political grandstanding and talking point reiterating continued:
Lawmakers praised the Pentagon’s decision to put the department’s civilian workforce back on the federal pay roll. “Congress fully intended for all of our civilian defense workers to be treated the same as our active duty military members,” House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said in a statement Saturday.
“All [federal employees] are vital to our national defense and need to be on the job protecting the nation,” he added.
While supportive of the Pentagon’s decision, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) said the move would have been unnecessary if Obama had not “been playing politics” with civilian furloughs.
The White Houses “should not have furloughed these hard working men and women,” Turner said in a statement Saturday.
“They should have been allowed to work through this entire shutdown,” the House defense panel member said, adding Obama is using federal workers as “bargaining chips” in the ongoing shutdown stand off with congressional Republicans.
“These men and women are crucial to our country’s national defense and I am glad they will be allowed to go back to work this week to support our armed forces,” he added.
Alas, since the coffers of the Treasury are finite, and since there rate of cash inflows is still the same, the fact that suddenly 400k more people will have to be paid salaries will mean that the government’s cash will ran out that much faster, likely well before the October 17 X-Date, meaning the debt ceiling deadline, and surrounding negotiations, just got pushed forward.
Finally, all this happened hours after the House passed the Federal Employee Retroactive Pay Fairness Act, H.R. 3223, in a 407-0 vote: in an expected outcome. This means that the second the government is “restarted” all the furloughed workers will get all their accrued pay backdate to the start of the government shutdown. In other words: government workers just got an extended vacation, and one which may even result in double pay, as most furloughed employees can apply for and receive unemployment benefits, with the proviso that they refund any such compensation the BLS gives them once the furlough ends. Something tells us the BLS will be less than strict in enforcing said collection.