Hagel: Shutdown threat 'unnecessary distraction' for Pentagon

"I know the uncertainty of a possible shutdown only adds to the anxiety" being felt across the department, in the wake of deep defense cuts under the White House's sequestration plan, the Pentagon chief said. 

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Senate Democrats and House Republicans are holding last-minute meetings before the Senate votes to reject the latest House-passed stopgap to keep government funded beyond Tuesday. 

On Friday, the Senate voted along party lines to pass a stopgap spending measure lasting until Nov. 15 after removing controversial language to defund ObamaCare.

The 54-44 vote puts the Senate on a collision course with the House, where Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has said the stripped-down bill will not reach the floor.

Defense Department leaders are already in “triage mode” as the Pentagon scrambles to adjust in anticipation for a government shutdown, DOD Comptroller Bob Hale said Friday. 

Pentagon officials are preparing to furlough nearly all of the department's civilian workforce, severely curtail day-to-day U.S. military operations and bring any plans for new business contracts to a halt if the federal government shuts down at midnight on Tuesday. 

The shutdown plan, drafted by Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter and released Friday, follows closely the Defense Department contingency blueprint issued by military leaders in anticipation of the last shutdown threat in 2011.

Senior Pentagon leaders are also concerned about the shutdown's effect on the civilian workforce.

The shutdown-driven furloughs come just as DOD civilians are coming back from the last round of furloughs under sequestration.

Roughly 400,000 civilian employees — half of the entire civilian workforce — would be sent home from the Pentagon and other DOD installations if a shutdown occurs Tuesday. 

That double-hit to Pentagon civilians could force those employees from the department in droves, according to Hale.

On Monday, Hagel attempted to dissuade that sentiment within the embattled civilian workforce at the Pentagon. 

"I want you to know that furlough decisions are dictated solely by the law ... the furloughs are in no way a reflection of the importance of your work, the hard effort you put forth every day, or your dedicated service to our department and our nation," Hagel said. 

"The Department of Defense is a strong and resilient institution [and] we are going into this challenge together and we will come out of it together," he added.

Despite those sharp reductions, department and service leaders will continue to carry out “essential operations in the absence of appropriated funds,” Carter said in a memorandum on Friday.

“The department will, of course, continue to prosecute the war in Afghanistan ... as well [as] continue many other operations necessary for the safety of human life and protection of property,” Carter said in the Pentagon-wide memo.

Carter listed more than 40 essential Pentagon and service-led activities that will be exempted from a possible government shutdown on Tuesday. 

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