On September 30th, the day before the government shutdown began, the Department of Defense issued a press release detailing billions of dollars of contracts the agency was distributing. All the usual suspects were cashing in – Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Phoenix International, Raytheon etc. – so even if some people weren’t coming to work the next day the war machine was ensured to grind on regardless. DoD knew what was coming and was well prepared.
But now the Pentagon is demonstrating its talent for political finesse in another clever way – invoking the Pay Our Military Act to end federal employee furloughs for many of their workers. From Defense Secretary Hagel:
Today I am announcing that most DoD civilians placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown will be asked to return to work beginning next week. Immediately after President Obama signed the Pay Our Military Act into law, I directed DoD’s Acting General Counsel to determine whether we could reduce the number of civilian personnel furloughed 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. 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.
On some level it is impressive – a buzzer beating push out of contracts and some creative legal interpretations to bring back a chunk of the workforce. But a worthy concern is whether the Pentagon’s ability to shake off the restraints of a shutdown means the shutdown itself may last longer.
Republicans have a notable ideological blind-spot on government spending when it comes to the military. So for those House GOP members worried about the shutdown primarily due to a supposed freeze on defense spending and damage to defense workers in their districts, the Pentagon’s ability to zig and zag around the legal and bureaucratic obstacles of the shutdown means those Republican members of Congress will be more reluctant to support a compromise that brings the government back online.