There is progress. The Pentagon, under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, has ordered most of its 400,000 furloughed workers back to work. How is this possible? Before the government partially shut down, President Obama signed the “Pay Our Military Act,” a bill that was passed by both Houses on October 1.*
On October 2nd, attorneys came up with a plan to get people back to work. Chris Carroll of Stars and Stripes wrote**:
On Tuesday, as hundreds of thousands of DOD employees went on furlough, Pentagon lawyers sent a legal brief to the White House Office of Management and Budget that a defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said had “recommended maximum flexibility” in interpreting the “Pay Our Military Act.” …
In a letter sent Tuesday to Hagel, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services committee, told Hagel that DOD civilians who are currently sitting at home are actually authorized to work by the new law.
“I believe the legislation provides you broad latitude and I encourage you to use it,” McKeon wrote. “The text does not limit the provision of pay to civilians who were previously categorized by the Administration as ‘excepted’ or ‘essential’ … Therefore, I strongly encourage you to use the authority Congress has given you to keep national security running, rather than keeping defense civilians at home when they are authorized to work.”
I applaud this creativity and call for “maximum flexibility” to return hundreds of thousands of people to work. Of course we are discussing legal interpretation of the new law, but I seriously doubt that any one individual or concern will challenge this productive interpretation in court.
In this spirit of creative thought, I now challenge others in our venerated halls of Congress to think and act with “maximum flexibility.” This may include using legal expertise to find new ways to re-open fully our large business, that is, the United States of America, or, and I think this part is more feasible, to invite a colleague from across the aisle to a table away from the reaches of the press. While discussing this weekend’s game or the Washington Capital’s chances of winning the Stanley Cup over a salad, sandwich or slice of pizza purchased from one of the many fine restaurants on The Hill now suffering because of lost patronage, perhaps there will be a rediscovery of a spirit of kinship and collegiality. Again, I encourage “maximum flexibility” in these discussions, and further urge our Congressional leaders to limit phrasing that begins “I need you to….”
Maybe our government provides role models after all.
October 7, 2013