Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Saturday called back to work most of the Pentagon's 400,000 civilian employees furloughed by the partial government shutdown.
Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska who'd been pressed by mainly GOP lawmakers to recall the laid-off workers, said his authority to do so comes from a bill passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama hours before the shutdown started after midnight Monday.
"We have tried to exempt as many DOD civilian personnel as possible from furloughs," Hagel said in a memo to top Pentagon officials. "We will continue to try to bring all civilian employees back to work as son as possible. Ultimately, the surest way to end these damaging and irresponsible furloughs, and to be able to fulfill our mission as a department, is for Congress to pass a budget and restore funds for the entire federal government."
The Pay Our Military Act, enacted Monday night, clearly exempted all men and women in uniform, and it gave Hagel authority to retain civilians essential to their support.
In calling back most of the 400,000 furloughed workers, as of next week, Hagel said his lawyers and attorneys with the Justice Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget had decided that those employees fit that category.
Rand Beers, acting secretary of the Homeland Security Department, later announced that he was recalling most civilian workers for the U.S. Coast Guard, using the authority under the same law.
In another move toward easing the impact of the shutdown, the Republican-controlled House voted 407-0 earlier Saturday to provide retroactive pay, once the partial closure ends, to all federal civilian employees who missed work during it.
Sen. Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, cheered Hagel's action.
"This is the right decision for the hundreds of patriots who support our soldiers, and now it's time to end this harmful government shutdown that has left hundreds of thousands of other federal workers sitting at home," Markey said.