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Pentagon finalizing plan to bring back furloughed civilian workers

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent
October 4, 2013 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pentagon may bring back up to 400,000 furloughed civilian employees
  • CNN has learned a plan to do so is in the final stages of being approved
  • The government shutdown began on Tuesday due to a political impasse over funding
  • NEW: Lawyers weigh how broadly to interpret law ensuring troops will be paid during shutdown

Washington (CNN) -- The Pentagon may announce as soon as this weekend a plan to bring up to 400,000 furloughed civilian employees back to work, according to two Defense Department officials.

CNN has learned the plan is in the final stages of being written and approved.

If all are returned to work, it would represent about half the number of government civilian and contract employees at risk of furloughs during the government shutdown that began on Tuesday.

The partisan congressional stalemate over spending for the current fiscal year shows no sign of ending anytime soon.

Details of the Pentagon plan were being worked out on exactly which employees would be brought back and how they would be notified.

The officials declined to be identified because the plan has not yet been announced.

But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made his view clear while traveling in Japan.

"We were forced by law to furlough many, many of our civilian workers. But we're trying to find a solid legal interpretation here in the law that can bring back more people in support of our military," he said.

It's expected the Defense Department will issue a broad statement from Hagel saying he is authorizing employees back to work followed by detailed memos about the recall would work.

Obama administration lawyers have been working to interpret how much leeway they were given by Congress over personnel in a measure approved just before the shutdown took effect that ensured troops would continue to be paid during a government closure.

Language in the law said civilian personnel and contractors will be paid if the secretary of defense "determines" they are providing "support" for the troops and several members of Congress have said that gives Hagel broad authority.

But the two officials said lawyers were still working on what that means because the law does not specifically say all employees can come back.

"The question is who works here at the department who supports troops?" one official said.

There will have to be some legal finding as to what jobs and which personnel specifically support troops, both officials said.

But Defense Department officials are well aware that Hagel is pressuring to bring everyone back to work next week.

"There's no job in our Department of Defense that doesn't support the military. So, I think theoretically -- I'm not a lawyer, but I do have some appreciation for common sense, and common sense tells you that if you're working for the Department of Defense, you're supporting the defense and the security of America, and you're supporting those who are on the front lines," Hagel said.

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