Workforce

Shutdown would give DOD civilians deja-vu

furloughed worker

The furloughs brought about by a shutdown would be more sweeping than those DOD employees have already endured under sequestration. (Stock image)

If a government shutdown becomes reality, it will be déjà vu for Defense Department civilians, many of whom will be temporarily furloughed while uniformed employees report for duty.

However, those furloughs would be far less discriminate or organized than those from earlier this year, which were planned under sequestration.

"The summer furloughs were administrative furloughs, designed to reduce costs, with a long notification process...therefore we had authority to design them based on criteria like readiness and cost savings," DOD Comptroller Robert Hale said in a Sept. 27 Pentagon press conference. "If there's a lapse in appropriation, law governs, not policy."

Under the law, only certain "excepted activities," including those designated as protecting safety of life and property and those related to Afghanistan and emergency services, would remain in operation during the shutdown, Hale said.

Hale estimated that roughly 400,000 employees, or about half of the civilian workforce, would be affected by shutdown furloughs.

"It's one more blow to morale of civilian workforce, and that morale is already low," he said.

Military personnel would be directed to remain on normal duty, as they legally cannot be placed on non-pay status. Civilians supporting excepted activities would be directed to continue to work, but all others would be placed on emergency non-duty, non-pay status.

In the event of a shutdown, pay also is affected.

DOD cannot pay either military or civilian personnel during a shutdown, even if they are directed to work. Those employees would be paid retroactively once the lapse ended. Civilians on emergency furloughs would be paid retroactively only if a law was specifically passed to do so.

Industry could also be affected, "especially if the lapse continues for substantial period of time," Hale said. Vendors working on contracts obligated with fiscal 2013 or earlier funds could continue to work, assuming government personnel are available to provide any needed supervision. But DOD cannot sign any new contracts or extend existing ones unless they are in direct support of excepted activities.

On Sept. 27 DOD released a memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, dated the day before, outlining high-level planning in the event that members of Congress will be unable to reach a spending deal by Oct. 1.

Like at other agencies, official furlough notices won't be issued until that day, and only if the lapse in funding does occur. In the meantime, commanders and supervisors are set to begin filling employees in on contingency plans and whether they are considered essential or nonessential personnel, according to the memo.

"Prudent management requires that we continue to prepare for all contingencies, including the possibility that a lapse could occur at the end of the month," Carter wrote in the memo, which largely echoes those issued at other agencies.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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