Hale calls shutdown ‘a tragedy,’ urges Congress to end it

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service

The lapse in appropriations that triggered the government shutdown "is a tragedy," and a "colossal waste of time" DOD's comptroller told the House Armed Services Committee today.

Under Secretary of Defense Robert F. Hale described for lawmakers how the department has implemented the Pay Our Military Act, which has mitigated some aspects of the shutdown. The act, passed September 30, took some days for DOD officials to examine and implement.

Hale described the steps the department took to prepare for the shutdown. On September 25, Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter issued a memo on shutdown triggered by the lapse in appropriations defining excepted activities. Under the law such activities are related to military operations and safety to life and protection to property.

"Once the lapse occurred we have no authority ... except to follow this guidance," Hale said.

Under the guidance, active duty military personnel continued in their normal status. Commanders and managers identified DOD civilians who worked primarily on excepted activities.

"These excepted civilians continued working after the lapse," Hale said. "All others were placed on emergency no-notice furloughs."

Reserve component personnel on inactive duty were allowed to drill only if the drills were in support of excepted activities such as readying for deployment to Afghanistan.

All told around 400,000 DOD civilians were placed on furlough.

"They will be paid only if Congress passes separate legislation," Hale said. "Military personnel and excepted civilians continued to work and they are guaranteed to be paid. In (the) reserves they can't be paid until after the lapse ends."

This was the situation before the Pay Our Military Act was implemented. POMA is an appropriations act, Hale said. It guarantees pay and allowances for those on active service.

"DOD can now pay active duty military personnel on time and in full, even ... if the lapse continues beyond the active duty payday," he said.

The act also allows pay and and benefits for excepted civilians in full and on time, he said.

It further provides pay and benefits for civilians in other categories, and this allowed the department to call back many civilians "who most directly served the members of the armed forces," Hale said. Lawyers concluded the act did not allow a blanket recall.

Department leaders conducted a review to identify the DOD civilians that fell within the act's purview.

"That review focused on the degree to which civilians aided the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of members of the armed forces," Hale said.

Excepted personnel fell into this category. The department recalled civilians who provide day-to-day support, like health care providers, family support, some repair and maintenance, commissary workers and payroll activities.

Another group of civilians who provide longer term support were also recalled. They include acquisition oversight, financial management, logistics, and a number of others.

"Finally, a category of civilians was identified whose work is highly valuable and necessary ... but it provides less direct support to military members," Hale said. "These civilians were not covered by POMA, and some remain on furlough."

They include chief information officer staff functions, public affairs officers except internal communications personnel, legislative affairs, deputy chief management officer, auditors, and related functions, as well as personnel providing support to non-DOD personnel.

More than 95 percent of DOD civilians who were on furlough were recalled, and most were back to work by October 7th.

Still, the lapse of appropriations is having serious adverse effects on DOD, Hale said.

"Despite our very best efforts, there are already some limited adverse effects on the war in Afghanistan," he said. While military operations are excepted, "we no longer have authority to make ... the Commander Emergency Response Program payments."

CERP funds are used to pay Afghans compensation for deaths or damage, or other events.

"They are key to continuing a responsible drawdown in Afghanistan," Hale said.

Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the International Security Assistance Force commander in Kabul, has expressed his strong concerns on the situation.

"But we have not yet identified a legal way to make these payments during a lapse of appropriations," Hale said. "We're trying our best."

The lapse continues to erode reserve component training and readiness. Weekend drills have been halted. The National Guard has canceled around 100,000 drills in the first weekend; the reserves canceled around 75,000 drills.

Active duty personnel are also hit in training and readiness accounts.

"The lapse forces us to waste a good deal of the public's money," Hale said. "About 400,000 DOD civilian personnel on furlough did not work for four days. That's roughly $600 million in services that we lost in support of national security objectives."

The department curtailed training, will pay interest for late payments and pay increased transportation costs.