WASHINGTON, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The U.S. Defense Department will put half of its 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave and halt military activity not viewed as vital to national security in the event of a government shutdown next week, a senior Pentagon official said on Friday.
The department’s 1.4 million military personnel would keep working even if Congress fails to reach a deal to fund government operations after the start of the 2014 fiscal year on Oct. 1, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters.
U.S. forces would continue fighting the Afghanistan war, patrolling the Mediterranean off Syria and conducting other operations considered necessary for the safety of human life and protection of property, but military personnel would not be paid until Congress reaches a deal to fund the government, he said.
Military death benefits to families could be delayed in some cases, but Hale said workers involved in transferring the bodies of war dead and conducting funeral services for members of the armed forces would continue their duties.
Hale’s comments came as the Defense Department, the U.S. government’s largest agency, released an eight page contingency plan for dealing with a government shutdown beginning on Tuesday in the event the U.S. Congress fails to pass an emergency spending bill to fund ongoing operations.
If a shutdown does occur, it would be the second time this year that some civilian defense employees have been placed on unpaid leave. The Pentagon put more than 600,000 employees on unpaid leave for several weeks during the summer because of budget cuts.
“A lapse of appropriations causes civilian furloughs. It is one more blow to the morale of our civilian work force, and that morale is already low,” Hale said. “Even if a lapse never occurs, the planning itself is disruptive. People are worrying right now about whether their paychecks are going to be delayed rather than focusing on the mission.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said in a memo accompanying the plan that U.S. forces would continue to fight Afghanistan war and conduct other operations “necessary for the safety of human life and protection of property” because those activities are exempted from a lapse in appropriations.
“All other activities would need to be shut down in an orderly and deliberate fashion,” Carter said.
Guidance issued by the department 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 said.