Some military activities could shut down this weekend amid budget rush

by Vern Evans

A short-term shutdown of Defense Department activities caused by a funding lapse this weekend could lead to headaches for some military personnel and family members.

House and Senate lawmakers are working to pass a full-year defense appropriations bill on Friday ahead of an 11:59 p.m. deadline when federal funds will expire. The $1.2 trillion bill — $825 billion of which has been set aside for military spending — was unveiled Thursday and may take several days to finalize because of parliamentary rules.

That means that some Defense Department offices and missions could be curtailed, starting Saturday morning. Members of both congressional chambers are expected to work throughout Friday to avoid that scenario.

However, Pentagon officials said they plan to send out guidance to offices sometime Friday warning them of the potential partial shutdown. That guidance remains unchanged from last fall, when similar guidelines were shared ahead of an expected lapse in appropriations that was ultimately avoided with hours to spare.

The most severe effects of a partial Defense Department shutdown — issues like widespread furloughs of civilian employees and delays in processing troops’ paychecks — won’t go into effect unless the shutdown extends into Monday.

But some disruption may still occur. DOD’s official guidance warns that some nonessential National Guard and reserve operations could be canceled if additional funds aren’t made available.

“Reserve component personnel will not perform [non-active] duty resulting in the obligation of funds … and may not be ordered to, or extended on, active duty except in support of military operations and activities necessary for national security or disaster response,” the planning document states.

Troops and civilian defense employees traveling to conferences could see those plans scuttled. Any planned visits by foreign officials to defense locations over the weekend will be canceled, unless officials can show they are “directly supporting excepted national security operations.”

Congressional travel with the military to overseas locations would also be suspended, though that issue is likely moot as most lawmakers will stay in Washington until an appropriations plan is complete.

Past shutdowns have forced the closure of some medical offices and child care centers, but those are not expected to be disrupted over the weekend.

Commissary stores will remain open this weekend, Defense Commissary Agency spokeswoman Tressa Smith said.

“In the event of a lapse in appropriation, military commissaries can continue full operation for a period of up to 60 days or until all DeCA working capital cash reserves are exhausted,” Smith said.

Activities and organizations funded entirely by nonappropriated funds, such as many morale, welfare and recreation activities and the military exchanges, generally won’t be affected. The exchanges are largely funded by sales revenue, and part of their profits help fund some MWR activities.

If lawmakers can finalize the budget before the Friday night deadline, the next round of government shutdown threats won’t come until Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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