Hagel said he based his decision on a Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act, which was passed shortly before the partial government shutdown began. Republican lawmakers had complained in recent days that the Obama administration was slow to bring back those workers even though the law allowed it.
In a written statement released Saturday explaining his action, Hagel said the Justice Department advised that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all Pentagon civilians. But government attorneys concluded that the law does allow the Pentagon to eliminate furloughs for “employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.”
Hagel said he has told Pentagon officials, including leaders of the military services, to “identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories.” He said civilian workers should stand by for further word this weekend.
In remarks to reporters, Robert Hale, the Pentagon’s budget chief, said he did not yet know the exact number of civilians who would be brought back to work but that it would be “90 percent plus.” He said there are about 350,000 civilians on furlough.
Hale said he hoped that a “substantial number” could be returned to work on Monday but that an exact timetable was not available.
In a rare Saturday session — and an even rarer showing of bipartisanship — the House voted 407-0 to pass a bill to provide furloughed workers back pay. The Obama administration supports the retroactive pay bill and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he expects the Democratic-led Senate to pass it.
Even a bill that passed without opposition evoked partisan rhetoric.
“Someone try to explain to the American people today that Republicans decided to shut down government on Oct. 1, and on Oct. 5, they decided to pay all those workers, those 800,000 workers that they told, ‘Don’t come in to work,’” said Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. “If it weren’t so serious it really would be absurd.”