Virtually all employees in the Fort Gordon Garrison and Army Signal Center of Excellence returned to work Monday after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced he would recall many of the 400,000 civilians furloughed during the government shutdown.
Fort Gordon spokesman J.C. Mathews could not say exactly how many of the 490 employees in the two offices were restored to full pay because the process “is still playing out and there may be situations that arise” in the future.
He said, however, that all the Army post services provided by the garrison are back up and running, except for the commissary, which will reopen on its normal schedule today.
Though Mathews said Fort Gordon leaders applauded Hagel’s efforts, he said the base would be very happy when its entire furloughed workforce is back on the job – “training service members and providing our military community the support it needs.”
“Obviously, this has been a difficult time for our employees and their families, and we’re grateful for their professionalism in spite of the financial strain they have endured through the furloughs,” Mathews said. “We’re also thankful for the many businesses and citizens who offered support to our employees and to service families during this latest furlough.”
The recall provides some relief in what Hagel has referred to as one of the hardest budget cycles in Defense Department history.
Already working without a pay raise in four years, more than 3,000 civilian workers at Fort Gordon were furloughed six days this summer amid rising health insurance costs and massive budget cuts.
“Civilians under furlough face the uncertainty of not knowing when they will next receive a paycheck,” Hagel said in an open letter to the defense workforce Saturday. “I strongly support efforts in Congress to enact legislation to retroactively compensate all furloughed employees and I will continue to urge Congress to fulfill its basic responsibilities to pass a budget and restore full funding for the Department of Defense and the rest of the government.”
Hagel said the decision that “most D.O.D. civilians” would be exempted from furloughs came after Pentagon and Justice Department attorneys interpreted a budget law passed just before the shutdown.
The two legal teams determined that under the Pay Our Military Act, the Defense Department can “eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.”
The act, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama as the government began to shut down, was intended to ensure that the military would continue to be paid.
When the government shut down, about half of the Defense Department’s civilian workforce of 800,000 was ordered to stay home; military personnel are automatically exempted from the shutdown.
“I expect us to be able to significantly reduce – but not eliminate – civilian furloughs under this process,” Hagel said.
He warned though that “many important activities remain curtailed” while the shutdown plays out.
“We will continue to try to bring all civilian employees back to work as soon as possible,” Hagel said. “Ultimately, the surest way to end these damaging and irresponsible furloughs, and to enable us to fulfill our mission as a Department, is for Congress to pass a budget and restore funds for the entire federal government.”