Hagel addresses concerns with shutdown

| October 4, 2013 | 0 Comments
Government Shutdown

Government Shutdown

Karen Parrish, American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea — The Defense Department and other government agencies responsible for national security will carry out their missions despite the government shutdown, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, here, Oct. 1.

While in the Asia-Pacific this week for high-level meetings, both here and in Japan, the secretary sat down with reporters traveling with him to explain what is known, and what isn’t, as nonessential government services are temporarily mothballed.

The secretary said he left Monday night’s state dinner honoring the U.S.-South Korea alliance, at which he spoke, “a little early” for a teleconference with Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter, comptroller Bob Hale and acting general counsel Robert Taylor.

During that conversation, he said, the four discussed possibilities for minimizing the shutdown’s effects on some 400,000 civilian employees who will be furloughed.

“Our uniformed military are taken care of” and will be paid, because President Barack Obama signed that exemption, the secretary said.

Hagel said most DOD civilians who will be furloughed will have received official notification when they reported to work Tuesday, and “will be asked to go home.”

Those who are exempt from the shutdown will remain at work and will be paid, he added.

Hagel said, Tuesday, that the department is working to identify whether some civilians may be called back from furlough based on the nature of their duties, but he cautioned the question might not be answerable immediately.

“Our lawyers are now looking through the law that the president signed … to see if there’s any margin here, or widening in the interpretation of the law of exempt versus non-exempt civilians,” Hagel said. “But, it’s a priority that we have, that we’re working on right now. It’s, in fact, the priority in our general counsel’s office.”

SEOUL, South Korea — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers question regarding the government shutdown and how the Department of Defense would structure the department through the furlough during a press conference, here, Oct. 1. (Photo by Erin Kirk-Cuomo)

SEOUL, South Korea — Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel answers question regarding the government shutdown and how the Department of Defense would structure the department through the furlough during a press conference, here, Oct. 1. (Photo by Erin Kirk-Cuomo)

Hagel, this week, called the action irresponsible, and he said, Tuesday, that it affects “our relationships around the world.”

“It cuts straight to the obvious question: Can you rely on the United States … to fulfill its commitments to its allies?” he said.

“Here, this great republic and democracy, the United States of America, shuts down its government,” Hagel continued. “The Pentagon, even though we are exempted — our military — has no budget. We are still living under this dark cloud of uncertainty, not knowing what’s going to happen.”

The shutdown affects missions around the world, the confidence of the nation’s allies and planning for pending budget cuts, he said; however, core missions will be carried out.

“We’re going to be able to fulfill our mission of keeping this country secure. We will fulfill our mission of maintaining the alliances we have and our troops in South Korea (and) Japan, and other treaty obligations,” Hagel stated.

He warned, however, that the shutdown casts a significant pall over America’s credibility with its allies and “puts us all in a very difficult spot.”

“It is nonsensical … it is completely irresponsible,” Hagel said. “It’s needless. It didn’t have to happen. And I would hope that our Congress can find a new center of gravity of responsibility, and start to govern.”

A strong military is essential to the nation’s security, he said, but civilian employees, not only in DOD, but across government, also play a vital role in that mission.

“To think of what this is doing to these civilian employees and their families,” the secretary said. “They’ve taken (administrative) furloughs already this year, now we have legal furloughs. This is going to impact the future of a lot of our employees.”

Hagel said a number of senior DOD civilians have spoken to him in recent months about their future.

“Their spouses are not happy; they have families; (they ask) how can we rely on a paycheck, how can we rely on a future … when this is the way we’re going to be treated?” he said.

“And I don’t blame them,” Hagel added. “That human dimension often gets lost in this great arena of debate in Washington, what we’re doing to our people who make the government function.”

Without quality employees, “you will have a dysfunctional system, a dysfunctional government. This is serious,” he cautioned.

“When you take that number of civilian employees out of the mix of everyday planning and working, you’re going to impact readiness. There’s no point in kidding about that,” he said.

“But,” Hagel continued, “(Americans) should not be concerned that their security is now in jeopardy. It is not; it will not be.”

“We will find a new center of gravity of governing in the United States of America,” Hagel said. “I think we are seeing an evolving new coalition of governance start to appear.”

“I do have confidence in our country,” he continued. “I do have confidence in our people … (and) almost a uniquely American self-correction process.

“We can fix our own problems,” he concluded. “We always have.”

(Editor’s note: This article was the last available on the shutdown at press time.)

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Category: Armed Forces Press Service, News

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