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Pentagon, Park Service outline furlough plan if government shuts down

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WASHINGTON -- About 400,000 civilian workers for the Department of Defense would be furloughed starting Tuesday if Congress is unable to reach a deal to fund the federal government, according to the Pentagon’s top finance official.

Military service members would continue to report to duty, but they, too, would not be paid during a shutdown. The first paychecks that would potentially not be issued would be the ones due Oct. 15, according to Undersecretary of Defense Robert F. Hale.

In a shutdown, the department would also be forced to stop other payments, including death benefits for families of members of the armed services.

“We would have no authority to pay the money, and in that case the payment would be delayed,” Hale said in a briefing for the media.  He warned that a freeze in funding would grow increasingly difficult to manage over time, as the department would run out of options for delaying operations and would be prohibited from entering into any new contracts with vendors.

“If a lapse occurs, the severity of effects would grow quickly if it turns out to be long,” he said. 

The Pentagon was among the first government agencies to release its plans for a potential government shutdown. Others are expected to disclose blueprints later Friday.

Hale said roughly half of the department’s civilian workforce would be ordered to stay home in the event of a shutdown. Those employees could be paid retroactively, he said, if Congress were to pass a law authorizing it. Retroactive pay was approved after the shutdowns of the mid-1990s but is not guaranteed.

Already, Hale said, the prospect of a shutdown has been disruptive to military operations.

“People are worrying about if their paychecks are going to be delayed rather than focusing on their mission,” he said.

About 86% of the furloughed workers would be outside of the Washington, D.C., area, according to Hale. Military statistics suggest tens of thousands of them are in California. 

“It is one more blow to the morale of our civilian workforce,” he said. “And that morale is already low.”

[Updated, 1:06 p.m. PDT Sept. 27:  A shutdown would also force the closure of the nation’s 401 national parks and monuments, from Alcatraz to the Statue of Liberty.

The National Park Service shutdown plan calls for day-use visitors to leave the parks immediately, and those staying overnight in park lodges, hotels and campgrounds to leave within 48 hours.

Only activities “essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” would continue to be funded by the government, according to the plan.

About 21,379 park service employees would be furloughed. Also furloughed would be another 37,000 employees who manage other federal lands and oversee offshore drilling and other coastal activities for the Department of the Interior.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the last time a government shutdown forced the closure of parks -- for a three-week period ending in January 1996 -- about 7 million potential visitors were turned away. At that time, local communities lost an estimated $14.2 million in tourism revenues every day the parks were closed.

The nonprofit National Parks Conservation Assn. estimates the impact on local business this year would be closer to $30 million per day.] 

evan.halper@latimes.com

Twitter: @evanhalper

richard.simon@latimes.com

Twitter: @richardsimon11

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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