Fort civilians going back to work
SIERRA VISTA — The furlough of federal employees which began on Oct. 2, the day after Congress failed to pass a continuing resolution is unraveling, as special exceptions are being made for Department of Defense civil service workers.
Of the nearly 350,000 defense civilian workers laid off as part of the federal government shutdown, nearly all are expected to be back to be back at their jobs today.
While no official comment was received from Fort Huachuca officials, knowledgable sources confirmed to the Herald/Review on Sunday afternoon nearly every civilian assigned to the post who were furloughed, and have been in that status for nearly a week are to return today.
The sources said more than 90 percent of those furloughed on the fort were to be informed by various means on Sunday.
Tom Philpott, who writes the Military Update column, carried by the Herald/Review in every Saturday edition, put out an update Sunday in which he noted “fewer than 10 percent will remain in furlough status until Congress passes a full funding bill.”
It was on Saturday when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that, based on a Department of Justice legal interpretation of the new Pay Our Military Act, the furlough of most Department of Defense civilian employees will end.
And for many active duty and retired service members, a sore point was the furlough closed many commissaries in the United States, 175 to be specific, according to Philpott.
Normally the fort commissary is closed on Mondays and local sources said it will reopen on Tuesday, as perishables, such as meat, fresh vegetables and fruit, milk and eggs, have to be replenished.
When the word came to close the post commissary on Tuesday, it was described by some as a “fire sale,” of items.
Philpott noted initially defense officials estimated 400,000 civil services employees were furloughed but the number was later reduced to 350,000.
When the call came to furlough all federal civilian employees many, including those in the Department of Defense, were spared as being critical, including U.S. Border Patrol, many in the National Park Service’s law enforcement functions and other entities.
But news accounts report the administration is not addressing the impact of civilian furloughs on other federal agencies.
Congress has already taken action to ensure those furloughed will still receive pay for the days they didn’t work because of the shutdown.
The Defense Department’s reading of a bill signed into law involving continued pay for armed forces service members appears to have given the department’s leadership wiggle room to bring back the majority of furloughed civil service workers.
On Sept. 30, Congress passed a bill continuing to pay the salary of uniformed members, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on the same day.
On Oct. 1, Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Barber — whose district includes the fort and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson — joined 67 other members of the House in pointing out part of the law’s text not only required payment to those who perform active duty but noted since civil service employees of the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard “serve to support the uniform services, all of these civilian employees should be returned to work without further delay.”
Failure to comply was, according to the letter, a violation by the Administration of “the intent of Congress.”
Barber continues charitable giving
From the day civil service employees were furloughed, U.S. Rep. Ron Barber has been donating each day of his congressional salary to three Arizona charities in his 2nd Congressional District.
He has provided slightly more than $158 to each of the selected charities.
Friday afternoon the three charities were announced for that day and they included one for Cochise County, the Sunsites Bread Basket, a community food bank, serving Pearce and the county areas around it.
The other charities chosen Friday were the United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and the Valley Assistance Services of Green Valley.
On Saturday the donations went to the Army Emergency Relief, the Assistance League of Tucson and the Federal Employee and Educational Assistance Fund.
Sunday donations went to Wellness Connection of Sierra Vista, the Salvation Army of Tucson and the 100 Club of Arizona.
Previous county donations went to two in Sierra Vista, the Good Neighbor Alliance and the Southern Arizona Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery Foundation, and to the Douglas Community Food Bank.
Today Barber will welcome nearly 80 Arizona World War II veterans when they visit the National World War II Memorial.
Traveling with the Honor Flight group out of Tucson are nine from the Sierra Vista area.
On the first day of the federal government’s shutdown a group of World War II veterans on an Honor Flight from another state were initially denied entrance to the site, but some members of Congress, including a former Marine, removed the barricades so the old warriors could visit their memorial.
Since then the National Parks Service police are not stopping such veterans from having access to their memorial.
As for Barber, during four straight House meetings during the shutdown he attempted to speak before the chamber, seeking a consensus to adopt a continuing resolution without strings to fund the government only to be ruled out of order each time and having his microphone shut off in less than 45 seconds by the Republican leadership.
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