WASHINGTON - The government shutdown is over, but it will take a while for the effects to fade, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said here today.
At the shutdown's height, more than 400,000 Defense Department civilian employees were furloughed because of the lapse of appropriations for the new fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The Pay Our Military Act allowed the department to bring most back to work Oct. 7. The rest - about 5,000 -- came back to work Thursday.
"While all of us across the department welcome the fact that the shutdown is now behind us, I know that its impact will continue to be felt by all of our people," Hagel said at a Pentagon news conference. "All of them, in different ways, had their lives affected and disrupted during this period of tremendous uncertainty."
All DOD leaders will work to repair the damage from the shutdown, the secretary vowed.
"I want all of our civilian personnel to know that the work they do is critically important to this department and this country," Hagel said. "It matters to this department, and it matters for the country. The military simply cannot succeed without our civilian employees, and the president and I appreciate their professionalism and their patience throughout this very trying period."
While the department must refocus on critical work, Hagel noted, Congress did not remove the shadow of uncertainty cast over DOD.
"DOD is now operating on a short-term continuing resolution, which limits our ability to start new programs, and the damaging cuts of sequestration remain the law of the land," the secretary said.
The continuing resolution passed last night gives Congress the chance to craft a balanced long-term spending bill, Hagel said.
"If this fiscal uncertainty continues, it will have an impact on our economy, our national security, and America's standing in the world," he added. "If the sequester level continues, there will also be consequences." The cuts could be devastating to training and to maintaining and equipping the force, he said.
"DOD has a responsibility to give America's elected leaders and the American people a clear-eyed assessment of what our military can and cannot do after years of sequester-level cuts," Hagel said. "In the months ahead, we will continue to provide our best and most honest assessment as Congress works to establish the nation's long-term spending priorities."
The secretary said he is concerned about civilian morale.
"I don't think anyone questions that the uncertainty that shutting down the government and closing down people's jobs has brought a great amount of not only disruption to our government, to our country, but to their lives, to the civilian personnel whose lives have been disrupted by this particular shutdown," he said.
Combined with no authorization, no appropriation, continuing sequestration and the uncertainty of planning, this creates a perfect stew for bad morale, Hagel said.
"People have to have some confidence that they have a job that they can rely on," he explained. "I know there are no guarantees in life, but we can't continue to do this to our people - having them live under this cloud of uncertainty."
If this continues, he added, DOD will not be able to recruit good people.
The government shutdown and the nation's debt limit problem are making American allies nervous as well, the secretary said.
"Our allies are asking questions: Can we rely on our partnership with America? Will America fulfill its commitments and its promises?" he said. "These are huge issues for all of us, and they do impact our national security and our relationships and our standing in the world."