Business as Usual for Security Agencies despite Govt Shutdown, US Defense Secretary
The U.S. Defense Department and other government agencies responsible for national security will carry out their missions despite the government shutdown, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in Seoul, South Korea yesterday.
The secretary, traveling in the Asia-Pacific this week for high-level meetings in South Korea, and in Japan, sat down with reporters traveling with him to explain what is known, and what isn’t, as nonessential government services are temporarily mothballed.
The secretary said he spoke with Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, comptroller Bob Hale and acting general counsel Robert Taylor about the possibilities for minimizing the shutdown’s effects on some 400,000 civilian employees who will be furloughed.
“Our uniformed military are taken care of” and will be paid, the secretary said, because President Barack Obama signed that exemption. Hagel said most Defense Department civilians who will be furloughed will receive official notification when they report to work today (October 1), and “will be asked to go home.” Those who are exempt from the shutdown will remain at work and will be paid, he added.
Government agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget, have issued guidance to the civilian workforce in recent weeks on how to implement a shutdown. Hagel said the department is working to identify whether some civilians may be called back from furlough based on the nature of their duties, but he cautioned the question might not be answerable immediately.
“Our lawyers are now looking through the law that the president signed … to see if there’s any margin here, or widening in the interpretation of the law of exempt versus non-exempt civilians,” he said. “But it’s a priority that we have, that we’re working on right now. It’s, in fact, the priority in our general counsel’s office.”
The secretary noted he has been asked repeatedly by South Korean officials why the shutdown occurred. Hagel, called the action irresponsible,by saying that it affects “our relationships around the world.”
“It cuts straight to the obvious question: can you rely on the United States … to fulfill its commitments to its allies?” he added.
The shutdown affects missions around the world, the confidence of the nation’s allies and planning for pending budget cuts, he said, but core missions will be carried out.
“We’re going to be able to fulfill our mission of keeping this country … secure, we will fulfill our mission of maintaining the alliances we have and our troops in South Korea [and] Japan, and other treaty obligations,” Hagel stated.
He warned, however, that the shutdown casts a significant pall over America’s credibility with its allies.
“To think of what this is doing to these civilian employees and their families … they’ve taken furloughs already this year – administrative furloughs,” the secretary said. “Now we have legal furloughs. This is going to impact the future of a lot of our employees.”
“That human dimension often gets lost in this great arena of debate in Washington – what we’re doing to our people … who make the government function.”
Without quality employees, he added, “you will have a dysfunctional system; a dysfunctional government. This is serious.”
Hagel said he does believe “we will find a new center of gravity of governing in the United States of America; I think we are seeing an evolving new coalition of governance start to appear.”
It may take an election cycle or two for that evolution to take hold, Hagel continued.
Press Release,October 2, 2013; Image: US DoD