DENVER — Congressman Mike Coffman, who introduced legislation to ensure active duty military personnel would get paid and have support staff during the government shutdown, blasted the Pentagon Thursday and accused the agency of purposefully misinterpreting the law for political reasons.
The Pentagon, however, insists that by keeping 10 percent of its staff furloughed, it’s simply following the clear directive of the Pay Our Military Act.
Coffman, R-Aurora, introduced the Pay Our Military Act (POMA) just before the government shutdown began, and it was quickly and unanimously approved.
But despite the law’s broad language, the Defense Department decided to keep some staff furloughed.
To Coffman, that was “based on a deliberate decision by the Department of Defense to misinterpret the Pay Our Military Act for political purposes.”
“You went out of your way at every possible turn to make this as ugly as possible, to inflict as much pain as possible on this department; and I just think it’s extraordinary,” Coffman told the Defense Department Comptroller William Hale at Thursday’s hearing.
“Not only do you have a conflict of interest by subordinating your own professionalism to that of a political agenda, but I think you’ve also compromised the national security of this country by creating a disruption in order to achieve that objective.”
Hale told Coffman he resented the comments.
“It was not a political judgment; we were trying to do what the law said was required,” he said.
Hale acknowledged POMA “greatly changed the picture” for the department; and he argued that the Pentagon was taking time to determine which employees could be called back into work under the new law.
“We concluded that POMA did not provide legal authority for a blanket recall of all civilians,” Hale said. “Had the law been intended to provide for recall, it should have said, ‘recall all civilians.’ It did not.”
The law explicitly says that civilian staff who support the military could be exempt from the shutdown. It further requires the Secretary of Defense to determine who falls into that category.
Hale also told lawmakers that while POMA has eased some of the shutdown’s impact, it’s still having “serious adverse effects” on Defense Department operations.
“There are already some limited adverse effects on the war in Afghanistan,” Hale said. “Notably, we no longer have authority to make CERP payments” in Afghanistan, he added, referring to the payments the Pentagon makes to Afghans to compensate for death or damage caused by the military. Those payments, Hale said, “are key to continuing a responsible draw-down.”