Pentagon set to recall most of its civilian staff sent home in shutdown
Getting 350,000 employees back to work could reduce government shutdown's impact on forces
The Pentagon said it would recall the vast majority of around 350,000 civilian Defence Department employees sent home during the US government shutdown, a move that could greatly lessen the impact of Washington infighting on the US armed forces.
Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said a legal review of the "Pay Our Military Act," signed by President Barack Obama on the eve of the shutdown, would allow him to bring most civilians back to work this week.
"I expect us to be able to significantly reduce - but not eliminate - civilian furloughs under this process," Hagel said.
"Employees can expect to hear more information from their managers starting this weekend."
Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale estimated that no more than a few tens of thousands of employees would remain at home.
And it may be substantially less than that, he said, adding that those sent home who did not qualify to return included legislative affairs personnel and some employees working in public affairs.
Hale estimated the number of civilian personnel now sent home at roughly 350,000, down from previous estimates by US defence officials of about 400,000 workers.
Sailors have complained about delays in annual payments of re-enlistment bonuses, military academies have scaled back classes and key Pentagon offices - including ones dealing with intelligence matters - have been hollowed out. Even shops selling groceries to military families have been closed.
Since the start of the shutdown, American troops have felt the fallout from the feuding despite legislation meant to protect them. Republicans in the House of Representatives have tried to delay or withhold funds for Obama's healthcare law as a condition of funding the government, leading to the impasse.
Republicans and Democrats have traded blame for the shutdown and, with no end in sight, the funding battle looks like it will merge with the one over the debt ceiling, which must be raised by October 17 to avoid default.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner vowed yesterday not to raise the US debt ceiling without a "serious conversation" about what is driving the debt, while Democrats said it was irresponsible and reckless to raise the possibility of a US default.
"The nation's credit is at risk because of the administration's refusal to sit down and have a conversation," Boehner told ABC's This Week, adding that there were not enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass a "clean" debt limit bill, without any conditions attached.
Asked if that meant the United States was headed towards a default if Obama does not negotiate, Boehner said: "That's the path we're on."
His comments appeared to mark an escalation since last week when he reportedly told Republicans privately that he would bring a vote to the floor on a clean debt limit bill if necessary to avoid a default.