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Government shutdown would hit Fort Drum soldiers and civilians

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FORT DRUM — The operations and paychecks of the post’s soldiers and civilian employees are on the line as Congress debates a bill to fund the government in time for the new fiscal year, which starts Tuesday.

A shutdown could delay soldiers’ paychecks. Additionally, the Department of Defense on Monday issued a memo with guidance to federal defense employees on what would happen in the event of a shutdown.

“A lapse would mean that a number of government activities would cease due to a lack of appropriated funding,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter said in the memo. “While military personnel would continue in a normal duty status, a large number of our civilian employees would be temporarily furloughed.”

Speaking to media Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said service members would come to work regardless of whether a deal were passed.

“They may not be paid on their regular payday,” he said, according to The Hill newspaper. Regarding civilian workers, the paper quoted Mr. Little as saying it would take an additional act of Congress to restore any pay lost during potential unplanned leave.

The department memo points out some employees may be excepted from furlough, primarily those “who are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.” However, it is not known which employees on post would avoid the unpaid leave.

Jeffrey W. Zuhlke, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 400, said he was keeping his fingers crossed that lawmakers would find a solution in time.

“They’re making a pessimist out of me,” he said.

The potential for shutdown furloughs comes after about 1,800 of the post’s employees had six administrative furlough days this summer in connection with federal budget cuts known as sequestration.

“People are just trying to scratch their way back from the loss of pay over the summer,” Mr. Zuhlke said. “They’re just piling more and more on top of government employees, and it’s getting ridiculous.”

For the 2014 fiscal year, the Pentagon will have to cut more than $50 billion from its current spending levels. It is not clear how many administrative furlough days, if any, may be considered for federal employees for the new fiscal year on top of any furloughs connected to a potential shutdown.

Asked what message he would send to lawmakers, Mr. Zuhlke said it would be for them to stop playing political games.

“In the meantime, federal workers and the general public is paying the price for this,” he said.

The memo is online at http://wdt.me/aTbx5Y.

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