Troops Would Forgo Pay During Shutdown, Pentagon Says

U.S. troops would work at least temporarily without pay if the federal government runs out of money on Oct. 1, according to a Pentagon memo.

If a budget impasse in Congress leads to a government shutdown, the Defense Department’s contingency plan calls for placing many civilian employees on temporary furloughs while military personnel continue to report for duty.

“Military personnel will not be paid until such time as Congress makes appropriated funds available to compensate them for this period of service,” Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in a Sept. 25 memo to senior managers.

Troops also may be asked to perform duties that would normally be handled by civilian employees on furlough, or unpaid leave, the plan says.

Temporary duty travel would be canceled in most cases.

About half of the Defense Department’s 800,000 civilian employees would be furloughed, forcing as many as 400,000 workers to go without pay until Congress can restore funding, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said at a news conference today.

Many civilian workers already were furloughed for six days this year as part of the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, which required the Pentagon to reduce planned spending by $37 billion.

Morale Blow

“It is one more blow to the morale of our civilian workforce,” Hale said of the additional round of furloughs that would be required under a shutdown.

Officials appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate aren’t subject to furlough, the plan says. Foreign nationals who are paid with funds from their host countries are also exempt.

“A shutdown would require our troops to go into combat while receiving only an IOU,” Senator Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement urging Congress to resolve a budget stalemate. “It’s unconscionable that some members of Congress would place their own policy preferences ahead of the needs of our troops and their families.”

The Senate voted today to finance the government through Nov. 15 after removing language to choke off funding for the 2010 health-care law, putting pressure on the House to act in time to avoid a federal shutdown set to start Oct. 1.

“Our message to Congress is this: do not shut down the government, do not shut down the economy, pass a budget on time, pay our bills on time,” Obama said in remarks today.

Paychecks Halted

Under the Pentagon plan, contractors wouldn’t be affected if their contracts were fully funded and awarded before a shutdown begins.

No new contracts could be awarded and no existing contracts could be expanded unless a contractor is needed to support an exempted activity.

Troops due to be paid Oct. 1 will still receive that paycheck, even if government spending authority runs out that day, Hale said. Paychecks slated to be issued on Oct. 7 and later could be halted, he said.

The plan includes a five-page list of exempted activities that wouldn’t be affected, including military operations, recruitment activities, emergency response, medical care, litigation work, criminal investigations and financial management.

Military Funerals

Defense Department lawyers must sort out how to apply those guidelines to specific jobs and tasks in determining who should be exempted from furloughs and what activities must be curtailed, Hale said.

Navy ships deployed on missions will be allowed to continue their work, while ships on training exercises may not be, he said.

While military funerals at Arlington National Cemetery can proceed, death benefits wouldn’t be paid immediately for troops who die after a shutdown begins, Hale said.

“The department will, of course, continue to prosecute the war in Afghanistan, including the preparation of forces for deployment into that conflict,” Carter said in his memo. “The department must, as well, continue many other operations necessary for the safety of human life and protection of property, including operations essential for the security of our nation.”

Carter said Pentagon leaders remain hopeful that Congress will provide a stopgap spending measure to avoid a shutdown.

“I hope we are all wasting our time planning this lapse” of funding, Hale said.