* Hagel says triggering funding crisis "astoundingly
* Some 400,000 civilian defense workers face unpaid leave
* New or extended contracts affected under Defense
Department contingency plan
By David Alexander
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Sept 28 Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel appealed on Saturday for U.S. lawmakers to
take action to avert a government shutdown next week, saying it
was "astoundingly irresponsible" to try to influence
policymaking by triggering a funding crisis.
Hagel, speaking to reporters en route to Seoul to mark the
60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea defense alliance, said
he had spent much of the week working on future spending cuts
while planning for a shutdown next week that could force 400,000
civilian defense workers to take unpaid leave.
For many of the civilians it would be the second time in as
many months they have been forced to take unpaid leave. More
than 600,000 civilian U.S. defense employees were required to
take unpaid leave in early August in a bid to reduce spending
after across-the-board budget cuts went into force in March.
"When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the
largest economy in the world, and we're putting our people
through this - that's not leadership, that's abdication of
responsibilities," Hagel said.
"This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern," he
added, saying he hoped members of Congress would work to find
"some common ground to govern and at least make the big
decisions in the larger interest of this country."
Funding for many U.S. government operations runs out next
week with the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, and unless
Congress reaches a deal to pay for its activities, much of the
government will be forced to shut down. Only certain activities
permitted under law are allowed to continue, officials said.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is
expected later on Saturday to vote on a bill to fund the U.S.
government in the new fiscal year but with a delay on
implementation of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has said the
Democratic-controlled Senate would not accept any funding
measure aimed at derailing "Obamacare" and the White House has
promised to veto the legislation if it passes Congress.
Failure to pass a funding bill would close down much of the
government for the first time since 1996.
A contingency plan released by the Defense Department on
Friday said the Pentagon's 1.4 million uniformed military
personnel would continue to report to work in the event of a
shutdown. But about half of the 800,000 civilian employees would
be placed on unpaid leave.
The plan said contractors working under fully funded
agreements awarded before appropriations ran out would continue
working, but new or extended contracts could not be executed.
"No funds will be available to pay such new contracts or
place additional increments of funding on contracts until
Congress appropriates additional funds," the contingency plan
Hagel said treatment of civilians under the law governing
shutdowns was short-sighted because civilians provided much of
the support structure for the military.
"When you look at the defense of America, it isn't just the
military," he said. "Our civilian employees, our civilian
components, are integral parts of the defense and security of
the United States. ... The entire support base for our military,
the fighters, comes from the civilian community."
Hagel's trip to Asia is the third since he took office at
the end of February. It comes as Obama's administration shifts
some of its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region following
more than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While in Seoul, Hagel also will take part in consultative
meetings on the future direction of the U.S.-South Korea
security alliance and attend a change of command ceremony for
U.S. forces in Korea.
Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the former director of the
U.S. Joint Staff, will take over as commander of U.S. forces in
Korea from Army General James Thurman.
Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. Joint
Chiefs of Staff, and Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of U.S.
Pacific Command, also will be attending the meetings in Korea.
After four days in South Korea, Hagel will travel to Tokyo
where he and Secretary of State John Kerry will participate in
so-called two-plus-two talks with their Japanese counterparts,
the first time they have done so in Japan.
"Especially at a time when the United States in particular
is focused on internal domestic issues, beginning with the
budget ... I think it's very, very important that we continue to
assure our allies in this region of the world that we are
committed to these alliances," Hagel said.