The 16-day shutdown that sent home roughly half of the federal civilian workforce cost the Defense Department hundreds of millions of dollars, its chief financial officer said Thursday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale held a press conference hours after Congress was finally able to end the gridlock that had shut down the government since the beginning of October. Roughly half of the department's 800,000 civilian workers were not paid or allowed to come to work during that time.
Losses in productivity due to the absence of these civilians cost the Pentagon at least $600 million, Hale said, at a time when purse strings are increasingly strangling the department.
Hale could not quantify the full shutdown costs, which built up through items like accrued interest on late payments to vendors, canceling training, and paying for civilians to come home and sending them back out as the department determined whether they were deemed "essential."
It amounts to "a lot of costs," he said.
Pentagon chief Hagel said the shutdown has damaged the reputation of the department and its ability to retain and recruit future workers and troops.
"People have to have some confidence that they have a job they can rely on," he said. "We can't keep doing this to our people."
These most recent furloughs follow six days of budget furloughs this summer, as an effect of the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration. Those cuts may also contribute to a reduction in the number of troops next year, and likely a reduction in civilian personnel or a freeze on hiring new staff.
The Pentagon is also operating on a continuing resolution in the wake of annual congressional inaction. As such it operates using numbers from the last budget Congress passed for fiscal year 2012.
"We've got to have some certainty here of being able to move forward," Hagel said.
He recounted a conversation from his most recent monthly lunch with junior enlisted service members – one of the former Vietnam sergeant's signature innovations since taking office. A sergeant told the secretary that his wife demanded to know if the sergeant had a future in the military, and whether it would be an adequate future to support a family.
"They want to stay in the military, they want to have purpose in their lives," said Hagel. "The same uncertainty [as civilians'] certainly resides in the uniformed military community."