Shutdown impact on DOD uncertain, but ominous
The Defense Department is closely studying its authorities to determine how to keep department functioning if the government shuts down.
The Defense Department will soon release guidance for how the military should proceed in the event of a government shutdown, Pentagon officials said. For now, details are scant.
But this morning one top Army official confirmed that, if there is a shutdown, troops would not receive pay past April 8 and would have to be paid retroactively once legislation for funding is passed. The Pentagon now is weighing how it will keep the military running if budget negotiations falls through.
The federal government, including DOD, is funded through midnight April 8.
“The rules of the game thereafter are that we cannot dispense [pay], so the Army cannot be paid,” said Lt. Gen. Edgar Stanton, military deputy for budget, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (financial management and comptroller office). He spoke at an event in Arlington, Va., sponsored by the Association of the U.S. Army.
Stanton confirmed that would be the case for all of the military services and DOD, not just the Army.
“There’s a gap in funding – we can pay up to the point when the gap commences, but cannot pay again until the legislation is in place,” Stanton said. “At that point it would be paid in full. If it’s two days, it’s not necessarily that bad, but if it’s longer it will become a problem for [military] families. Soldiers in harm’s way need to be focused on the mission, and not on making mortgage or other payments.”
Stanton said he could not discuss the details of the potentially forthcoming DOD shutdown guidance, but said the Army commands are working together to establish a procedure associated with the possible shutdown. Ultimately, the guidance’s details and release will be subject to a decision from the Office of Management and Budget, Stanton said.
DOD previously drafted a memo for guidance when a government shutdown was threatened last month, according to an Air Force Times report that said troops could be required to work without pay.
That memo said DOD personnel would be divided into “essential” and “nonessential” categories: essential employees would be required to report to work and later receive back pay, while nonessential workers would be furloughed with an unclear payment plan. The memo, which was never issued, also outlined what organizations would remain open–including military operations abroad.
The March memo could be serving as the basis of the latest round of policies dealing with a potential government shutdown, but Pentagon officials are also closely studying their authorities, including powers that could be exercised under the Civil War-era Feed and Forage Act of 1861, one expert said.
“The Feed and Forage Act basically allows the military to spend money without appropriation and get approval after the fact. It was also invoked by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after the Sept. 11 attacks,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
According to a report from OMB Watch, the act allows military discretion in the absence of appropriations to purchase necessary goods and services during emergencies for use through the end of the fiscal year. In DOD’s Financial Management Regulations (volume 3, chapter 12), language clarifies that for use of the Food and Forage Act, “the exigencies of those circumstances must be such that immediate action is imperative and action cannot be delayed long enough to obtain sufficient funds to cover the procurement or furnishing of those items.”