Civilian workers back on the job at Lewis-McChord

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Despite the government shutdown, most civilian employees of the U.S. Defense Department are heading back to work on Monday morning.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, all civilian employees were ordered back to work, as were most employees at other military installations in the Puget Sound region.

The Pentagon is bringing back to work at least 90 percent of the estimated 350,000 defense civilian employees who were furloughed in the partial government shutdown. The move takes a big bite out of the impact of the political impasse in Washington that has left the government without a budget.

The decision by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is based on a Pentagon interpretation of a law called the Pay Our Military Act. That measure was passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama shortly before the partial government shutdown began Tuesday.

Republican lawmakers had complained in recent days that the Obama administration was slow to bring back those workers even though the law allowed it.

In a written statement explaining his action, Hagel said the Justice Department advised that the law does not permit a blanket recall of all Pentagon civilians. But government attorneys concluded that the law does allow the Pentagon to eliminate furloughs for "employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members."

Hagel said he has told Pentagon officials, including leaders of the military services, to "identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories." He said civilian workers should stand by for further word this weekend.

Locally, the return to work was a huge relief to families concerned about how they were going to pay their bills on time.