Robert F. Hale, the Pentagon comptroller, estimated that more than 90 percent of about 350,000 furloughed Defense Department employees would return to work, many of them as soon as Monday. “We hope to move very quickly,” Hale told reporters.
The Defense Department directly employs about 750,000 civilians. Pentagon officials had previously said about 400,000 of them had been furloughed because of the government shutdown. Hale revised that number Saturday, saying that 350,000 was a more accurate figure.
He said he could not precisely say how many people would be able to return to work because officials were still determining which employees qualified under the new law. He said he hoped that “no more than a few tens of thousands will remain on furlough,” and maybe even fewer than that.
“Although we’re very happy we’re getting most of our people back,” Hale added, “we haven’t solved all the problems.”
Regardless, the Pentagon announcement will dramatically scale back the government shutdown. Defense Department civilian employees had represented nearly half of the estimated 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed for the past week.
After consulting with Pentagon lawyers and other Obama administration officials in recent days, Hagel decided that he could justify recalling almost of the Pentagon’s furloughed workforce based on provisions in the Pay Our Military Act.
In a statement, Hagel said the Justice Department advised that the law would not permit a blanket recall of all civilians working for the Pentagon. But he added that attorneys for the Justice and Defense departments agreed that the law does permit the Pentagon to eliminate furloughs “for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.”
Hagel said he has directed the armed services and defense agencies to determine exactly how many employees can come back to work. Workers, he said, can expect to hear from their managers starting this weekend whether they can return to their jobs.
“I expect us to significantly reduce – but not eliminate – civilian furloughs under this process,” he said. “We will continue to try to bring all civilian employees back to work as soon as possible. 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.”