By Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
WASHINGTON (CNN) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Saturday that “most [Department of Defense] civilians placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown will be asked to return to work beginning next week.”
The ongoing government shutdown has left more than 800,000 workers furloughed since Tuesday — roughly half of those are civilians working for the Pentagon.
Hagel says Pentagon and Justice Department attorneys have concluded that the law does allow the Defense Department to eliminate furloughs for employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.
Hagel says he’s directing that employees who fall under these categories be identified.
“I expect us to be able to significantly reduce — but not eliminate — civilian furloughs under this process,” Hagel said in a statement.
Just hours before the announcement, the House passed a bill providing back pay to federal workers who were furloughed.
It’s unclear when the Senate might vote on the bill.
On Friday, the White House said the president would sign such a measure.
Speaker John Boehner and GOP House leadership held the vote as part of a strategy to pass piecemeal spending legislation that addresses the issues brought up by the shutdown.
Although Democrats oppose the incremental approach, saying it amounts to conservatives choosing to fund programs and services they like, the bill passed with strong bipartisan support.
Retroactive pay is provided under the bill, but federal workers can’t expect paychecks until after the government shutdown ends and Congress reaches a resolution on the budget.
Hagel’s announcement guarantees that many of the Defense Department workers no longer have to wait on Congress in order to go back to work.
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