In response to a question about the impact of a potential government shutdown, Defense Secretary James Mattis said “Our maintenance activities will probably pretty much shut down… over 50 percent, altogether of my civilian workforce will be furloughed… we do a lot of intelligence operations around the world and they cost money, those obviously would stop.” This all comes just a few short weeks after Trump signed a defense budget giving the U.S. military its largest raise in eight years.
But will the world as we know it come to a screeching halt if a resolution is not passed by the looming midnight Friday deadline? Will Mattis really need to shutter essential military operations? In a word, no. Essential functions of government will continue as usual and the military is considered a core of those essential functions. Active duty personnel are expected to remain at their posts until the shutdown is ended. They will have no gap in their pay unless the shut down lasts longer than 1 February, at which time they will still be expected to work as normal. So ultimately this is yet another potential turn on the sequester rollercoaster ride that everyone just wants to get off.
A federal statute, the Antideficiency Act, effectively prevents agencies from spending money that Congress and the president have not appropriated, but there are exceptions. These exceptions involve the military and intelligence operations so Secretary Mattis may be able to continue business as usual if the powers that be deem his needs to be essential. In 2013, legislation called the Pay Our Military Act, was used to keep military paychecks flowing and bring back nearly 350,000 of the 800,000 civilian personnel who had been furloughed by the Defense Department. It will be up to President Trump to sign such legislation if it is put forward.
The rules for who works and who doesn’t date back to the Reagan administration in a memorandum stating federal workers are exempted from furloughs if their jobs are national security-related or if they perform essential activities that “protect life and property.”
Unfortunately, shutdowns are nothing new. There was a shutdown during every year of the Carter administration and six for Reagan’s time at the helm. Shutdowns happened on Clinton’s watch and Obama too. But noting that these are not rarities does nothing to ease the worry of those who will find themselves on unpaid leave soon, or worse, expected to show up without pay.
According to Defense Department guidance, here is how some military services would most likely be affected:
Active-duty troops, as well as Guard and Reserve members, would not get paid during a shutdown unless Congress passes a separate piece of legislation to do so.
Military retirees would still receive their regular pension checks in the event of a shutdown, as would those receiving a Survivor’s Benefit Plan (SBP) payment.
Newly bereaved family members would not receive the Pentagon’s $100,000 death gratuity during a shutdown or military-funded travel to Dover AFB or elsewhere for the dignified transfer or military funeral or memorial.
Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) payments would not be affected.
Guidance has not been issued yet this year on permanent change of stations moves (PCS) and temporary travel (TDY) but in the past, these were put on hold.
DoD has warned that while military hospitals would stay open for emergencies, inpatient care and acute care, all other types of care — including elective procedures and primary-care appointments — would be canceled.
Hundreds of thousands of other government workers will likely be furloughed during a shutdown, making the D.C. beltway a much quieter place.