House lawmakers are pushing legislation that would bring all furloughed Defense Department civilian employees back to work during the government shutdown.
The Support Our Armed Forces Act would ensure that all defense civilians would continue to work and be paid during the shutdown. It also extends pay to defense contractors, all members of the National Guard, reservists, Coast Guard, and dual service technicians.
Roughly 400,000 defense employees — half of the department’s civilian workforce — have been furloughed because of the shutdown, now in its third day.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Cook, R-Calif., is the latest effort by some Republican lawmakers to pass separate pieces of legislation to fund parts of the government during the shutdown, rather than approving an overall “clean” continuing resolution to re-open agencies.
Separately on Thursday, the House passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., that would pay members of the National Guard and military reserves on inactive duty during the shutdown.
President Obama signed into law a bill on Monday that ensures all active-duty and reserve members of the armed forces, as well as any civilians and contractors working in support of those forces, are paid on time regardless of the shutdown’s duration.
But House Republicans have questioned the Pentagon’s interpretation of the law thus far, arguing that it gives the department broad latitude to keep most civilian workers on the job. “The text [of the law] does not limit the provision of pay to civilians who were previously categorized by the administration as ‘excepted’ or ‘essential’ for the purposes of Department of Defense operations in the event of a government shutdown,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., in an Oct. 1 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Hagel said the department’s general counsel is reviewing the law to see what flexibilities exist to keep more civilians on the job during the shutdown.
“I know you would agree with me that this is no time to use national security or our national security workforce as a political pawn,” McKeon added.