News Column

Civilian Defense Workers Go Back to Work

October 7, 2013

Kym Klass, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.

Oct. 07--Don Alexander returns to work today as director of curriculum for the Air Force Senior Non Commissioned Officer Academy at Gunter Annex after a few days of furlough.

He said the recent government shutdown is small in the grand scheme of things and that it did not surprise anyone he knows. What is surprising, he said, "is that they're not in conferences negotiating. It's one thing to take a stand, and another to not work through it."

Furloughed federal workers from the Montgomery area will be back at work today as a result of a decision by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who in a statement announced that most Department of Defense civilians placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown would be asked to return to work beginning this week.

He ordered nearly all 350,000 back on the job, basing his decision on a Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act.

As reported last week in the Montgomery Advertiser, the government shutdown included about 2,000 civilian workers at Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex who showed up long enough Tuesday to shut things down before military personnel took over operations.

"When the government shuts down, of course a lot of us were worried about pay," Alexander said. "If you lose faith in the system as an employer, then you're going to look elsewhere. That's basic economics for any family."

Immediately after President Barack Obama signed the Pay Our Military Act into law, Hagel said he directed the DOD's Acting General Counsel to determine whether the number of civilian personnel furloughed could be reduced due to the shutdown.

The Department of Defense consulted closely with the Department of Justice, which expressed its view that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilians, Hagel said. However, DOD and DOJ attorneys concluded that the law does allow the Department of Defense to eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members, he said.

The government shutdown precipitated by the budget brinkmanship entered its sixth day with hundreds of thousands of federal employees furloughed, national parks closed and an array of government services on hold.

Barbara Gill was one of those workers.

A financial management analyst at Gunter Annex, she said like many others, she has lost a lot of confidence in the security of being a government employee.

"We used to think that government jobs were so secure," she said. "Last fiscal year, we lost six days of pay, and we're told there may be more furlough this fiscal year. So that's not security anymore."

Gill spent the furloughed days catching up on things and also updating her resume as she began thinking about a different career path.

"I'm thankful for my job," she said. "There are many benefits. It's an extension of serving, and knowing that what we do helps our military."

Alexander spent his days off adjusting to having days off.

He caught up on appointments, updated his resume and said it took a few days to let it sink in that he was staying home.

"I'm leaving the resume out there until a budget is settled for pay," he said. "I have to have trust in my employer, and at this time, I do not. That's not the local employer, but the big government. I'd hate to leave the job I'm in."

The United States also moved closer to the possibility of the first-ever default on the government's debt Sunday as Speaker John Boehner adamantly ruled out a House vote on a straightforward bill to boost the borrowing authority without concessions from Obama.

With no resolution in sight, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned that Congress is "playing with fire" as he called on lawmakers to pass legislation re-opening the government and a measure increasing the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit.

Lew said Obama has not changed his opposition to coupling a bill to re-open the government and raise the borrowing authority with Republican demands for changes in the 3-year-old health care law and spending cuts.

Boehner insisted that Obama must negotiate if the president wants to end the shutdown and avert a default that could trigger a financial crisis and recession that would echo the events of 2008 or worse. The 2008 financial crisis pushed the country into the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

"We're not going to pass a clean debt limit increase," the Ohio Republican said in a television interview. "I told the president, there's no way we're going to pass one. The votes are not in the House to pass a clean debt limit, and the president is risking default by not having a conversation with us."

Boehner also said he lacks the votes "to pass a clean CR," or continuing resolution, a reference to the temporary spending bill without conditions that would keep the government operating. Democrats argue that their 200 members in the House plus close to two dozen pragmatic Republicans would back a so-called clean bill if Boehner just allowed a vote, but he remains hamstrung by his tea party-strong GOP caucus.


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Original headline: Furloughed civilian DOD workers returning to work

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Source: (c)2013 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

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