Republicans Slam Pentagon Over Furloughs of Defense Civilians

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

House Republicans are questioning the Pentagon’s plan to furlough half of its federal civilian workforce because of the government shutdown.

The GOP leadership on Tuesday said the Pay Our Military Act, which President Obama signed into law on Monday before the government closed, gives the Defense Department broad flexibility to keep most civilian defense workers on the job. The law ensures that all active-duty and reserve members of the armed forces, as well as any civilians and contractors working in support of those forces, are paid on time regardless of the shutdown’s duration.

“I believe the legislation provides you broad latitude and I encourage you to use it,” wrote House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., in an Oct. 1 letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “The text does not limit the provision of pay to civilians who were previously categorized by the administration as ‘excepted’ or ‘essential’ for the purposes of Department of Defense operations in the event of a government shutdown.”

Hagel has said the department’s general counsel is reviewing the law to see what flexibilities exist with respect to keeping more civilians on the job during the shutdown.

“I know you would agree with me that this is no time to use national security or our national security workforce as a political pawn,” McKeon added.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement linking to McKeon’s letter, criticizing the Pentagon for “narrowly” interpreting the law so far “against congressional intent.” The headline of Boehner’s statement is “Despite Signing Pay Our Military Act, White House Using DoD Workers to Play Political Games.”

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