DOD Officials Detail Closure Effects, Plans

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2011 — While still hop­ing to be spared a shut­down, Defense Depart­ment offi­cials are mak­ing plans should the gov­ern­ment close over the fis­cal 2011 bud­get impasse, a senior Pen­ta­gon offi­cial said here today.
“We are a coun­try of laws, and if we go through a gov­ern­ment shut­down, we will fol­low the laws,” the offi­cial said on back­ground.

With­out an appro­pri­a­tions act, the depart­ment can­not dis­perse funds except for very nar­row excep­tions for safe­ty of life and pro­tec­tion of prop­er­ty. “Based on these excep­tions, we can main­tain key nation­al secu­ri­ty func­tions –- the war in Afghanistan, the tran­si­tion in Iraq, Libya oper­a­tions and human­i­tar­i­an oper­a­tions in Japan, and oth­er key nation­al secu­ri­ty mis­sions,” he said.

All mil­i­tary per­son­nel are “except­ed” if the gov­ern­ment is closed and will report to work. Only civil­ians in except­ed posi­tions would be direct­ed to report to work. “All oth­ers will be placed on no-notice, non-paid fur­lough sta­tus,” the offi­cial said. “We esti­mate about 400,000 civil­ians will be fur­loughed.” A shut­down would cause pay issues, the offi­cial said, not­ing the April 15 mil­i­tary pay day would have only half a pay­check.

“We will be able to pay the mil­i­tary retroac­tive­ly once we get an appro­pri­a­tion,” he said. “But in the mean­time, it’s tough on men and women in the mil­i­tary. They have kids to feed, car pay­ments to make and mort­gages to pay like we all do.”

If the shut­down is over by April 12, Defense Finance and Account­ing Ser­vice offi­cials believe they would be able to get the full pay into the checks by April 15. If not, the ser­vice is look­ing at a spe­cial “catch-up” pay­day for troops.

For DOD civil­ians, the April 15 check will be com­plete for most because of the way the pay peri­od occurs. For those direct­ed to work, they can be paid retroac­tive­ly. For those fur­loughed, Con­gress would have to pass spe­cial author­i­ty to pay them.

“If [the shut­down] were to go as long as April 30, then nei­ther mil­i­tary nor civil­ians will get any pay at all,” the senior defense offi­cial said. The depart­ment also will not be able to pay the $100,000 death gra­tu­ities paid to the sur­vivors of those killed on duty, the offi­cial said.

“We could pay that retroac­tive­ly once we get an appro­pri­a­tion, and we’re look­ing for ways to be help­ful in the mean­time, but we won’t be able to pay the full amount,” he said. Oth­er effects of a shut­down, the offi­cial said, would include DOD not being able to per­form rou­tine main­te­nance, sus­pen­sion of rou­tine class­room train­ing, pos­si­bly sus­pend­ing mil­i­tary pro­mo­tion boards, and stop­ping some sup­ply actions.

Local com­man­ders have some lee­way in how to han­dle the shut­down at bases, the offi­cial said. DOD offi­cials still do not know how mil­i­tary com­mis­saries would be affect­ed. DOD Edu­ca­tion­al Activ­i­ty Schools will remain open, and day care would still be avail­able.

“The big prob­lem [for fam­i­lies] is if this runs to April 15, they only have half a pay­check,” the offi­cial said. “That’ll be a big prob­lem for peo­ple.” DOD is work­ing with the mil­i­tary aid soci­eties, “but there is only so much that they can han­dle,” the offi­cial said.

There is legal help, accord­ing to offi­cials.

“Under the Ser­vice Mem­bers Civ­il Relief Act, if a ser­vice mem­ber on active duty is unable to per­form an oblig­a­tion aris­ing under a con­tract [for exam­ple, they can­not make an auto­mo­bile, rent or mort­gage pay­ment], and is charged a late fee or oth­er sim­i­lar penal­ty as a result, then a court may reduce or waive that fee if the abil­i­ty to pay was mate­ri­al­ly affect­ed by such mil­i­tary ser­vice,” DOD offi­cials said.

“If a ser­vice mem­ber miss­es a pay­ment because of pay dis­rup­tions caused by the shut­down of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment,” the offi­cial said, “then this sec­tion [under the Relief Act] should pro­vide relief. Ser­vice­mem­bers should con­tact their lenders or the oth­er par­ty to their con­tract or oblig­a­tion and request relief under this sec­tion.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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