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Many Coast Guard furloughs could end

Along with hundreds of thousands of civilian Defense Department workers, thousands of civilian Coast Guard employees could be back on the job by next week, according to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Rand Beers.

Under Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's and the Pentagon's broad interpretation of legislation requiring the uniformed military and support staff to be paid during a partial government shutdown, more than 350,000 furloughed civilian Defense Department employees could return to work the week of Oct. 14. Congress passed the measure and President Barack Obama signed it just as the government shutdown began.

In an Oct. 5 statement, Hagel said the Defense Department, consulting with the Department of Justice, determined the new law does not permit a blanket recall of all civilian government workers. But DOD and DOJ attorneys, said Hagel, concluded that Defense Department employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members could return to work.

Beers said the same criteria apply to the Coast Guard, a DHS component. In an Oct. 5 statement, he said civilian Coast Guard employees who had been furloughed would be asked to return to work.

The Coast Guard will be bringing back 5778 employees, Coast Guard spokesman Capt. Tony Hahn told FCW, with Coast Guard Operational and Logistic Commands seeing the biggest recall of civilian personnel. According to the Coast Guard's website, more than 7,000 civilian Coast Guard employees work at more than 100 locations across the United States.

Beers said he directed the DHS Office of the General Counsel and the Coast Guard Office of the Judge Advocate General to determine if the service could reduce the number of furloughed civilian personnel after Obama signed the military pay bill. Along with the Defense Department and Department of Justice, DHS concluded the law allows the Coast Guard the same readiness and morale exceptions claimed by the other services.

"I am directing the Coast Guard to move expeditiously to identify all employees whose activities fall under these categories. I expect us to be able to significantly reduce but not completely eliminate Coast Guard civilian furloughs under this process," Beers said.

The standard, according to Beers' memo to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp, covers a wide range of responsibilities. Beers lists 17 examples of employees that would meet the criteria, including commands and staffs; director of operational logistics; health, safety and work-life staff; logistics and service centers supporting operational units; and acquisition program oversight and staff management. he list of those not covered was shorter. It includes the National Vessel Documentation Center, the National Maritime Center, Congressional affairs and work done in support of non-Coast Guard activities and agencies -- with the exception of work done for the Defense Department.

Beers warned, however, that the act covers appropriations only for personnel, and not for equipment, supplies, materiel and the other things the department needs to operate. A prolonged shutdown, he said, could mean furloughs will resume. "Critical parts, or supplies, will run out, and there will be limited authority for the U.S. Coast Guard to purchase more. If there comes a time that workers are unable to do their work, the department will be forced once again to send them home," he said.