Washington – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s surprise decision to put about 350,000 Department of Defense civilian workers on the job has prompted Sikorsky Aircraft to scrap plans to furlough nearly 2,000 workers on Monday.
Late Sunday, Pratt & Whitney also announced it had abandoned plans to lay off thousands of workers next week.
Hagel was under pressure from the defense industry – Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin also announced furloughs – as well as dozens of lawmakers to call back the military’s civilian workforce. Defense contractors like United Technologies, parent company of Sikorsky and Pratt & Whitney, said the temporary layoffs of hundreds of Defense Contract Management Agency inspectors who audit and approve their operations had slowed or stopped production.
But Hagel’s announcement will put the DCMA workers back to work.
“I’m happy to report the temporary layoffs are cancelled since the federal DCMA inspectors are being recalled from furlough,” said Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson.
United Technologies also said it was glad of Hagel’s move.
“United Technologies greatly appreciates the efforts of those in the Administration and Congress who facilitated the recall of the furloughed civilian employees in the U.S. Department of Defense,” a company statement said.
In addition, the Connecticut National Guard, which had furloughed hundreds of guardsmen and contractors without pay and stopped all drills and training exercises, may return to normal operations following Hagel’s decision.
On Sunday morning, Connecticut National Guard spokesman Col. John Whitford said, “We are taking a look at that and should know by later today.”
A spokesman could not be immediately reached at the Naval Submarine Base New London, but it appeared that Hagel’s intepretation of the law means that at least some of the furloughed civilian employees would be recalled at the base.
Hagel said he based his decision on a broad interpretation of a bill that would pay active duty military personnel approved by Congress Monday, just hours before the federal government shut down because lawmakers could not agree on how to fund the rest of it.
The “Pay Our Military Act,” which was signed into law swiftly by President Obama, includes language exempting Defense Department civilians from furlough if they provide direct support to military operations.
The entire Connecticut congressional delegation wrote Hagel this week urging him to “use any and all flexibility you may have,” to bring back the DCMA workers.
The shutdown means the Pentagon’s authority to issue new defense contracts is curtailed.
But Hagel’s decision to recall about 350,000 DOD civilian personnel from furlough means most of U.S. military personnel will be working – and receiving pay.
Not so the rest of the federal government.
About 450,000 federal workers still remain on furlough without pay. More than a million other civil servants are on the job, but the shutdown has stopped their paychecks.
The House tried to help them with the unanimous approval Saturday of a bill that would give all federal workers back pay when the shutdown ends. The Senate is expected to approve the retroactive pay bill in the next few days.
But squabbling over a short-term budget bill that would reopen the federal government continues on Capitol Hill. Republicans continue to insist it continue a provision that would roll back the Affordable Care Act. Democrats – and Obama – reject anything other than a bill that would continue to fund the government at current spending levels.
“Passage of (the retroactive pay bill) hardly resolves the damage that the shutdown is causing to our country,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, a supporter of the back-pay bill. “Indeed, the need to pass a clean budget immediately is even more pronounced, now that Congress has committed to paying workers who still cannot perform their jobs in exchange for their pay.”