The Pentagon officially warned troops and defense civilians Friday that the all-too-familiar gridlock on Capitol Hill is threatening a government-wide shutdown next week that would offer no immediate mechanism for continuing military pay.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress face an Oct. 1 deadline to reach a budget deal and are trying to negotiate a stopgap measure to stave off a shutdown that would grind to a halt many of the Defense Department's civilian-run operations and raise questions about troops' Oct. 15 paychecks.
"During a government shutdown, all military personnel would continue in a normal duty status; however, they would not be paid until Congress provides funding," Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work wrote in a memo sent to all Defense Department troops and civilian employees Friday morning.
"The uncertainty of the current circumstances puts our workforce in a difficult situation, and should a government shutdown occur, it could impose hardships on many employees as well as the people we serve every day," Work wrote.
In 2013, Congress passed legislation specifically to protect military pay during that year's government shutdown, but that measure has expired.
Hill staffers told Military Times on Thursday that legislation to protect military pay if a shutdown happens is "premature," given the numerous discussions ongoing among lawmakers to stave off the budget crisis.
But congressional aides also were promising that the military would get "whatever it needs" if a shutdown does occur.
Many observers say a last-minute budget deal is likely.
In the past, congressional leaders have been loath to adopt resolutions permanently protecting military pay from interruption in the event of a shutdown.
Some individual lawmakers back the idea, but others believe such a move would blunt the potential impact of a budget impasse, possibly reducing pressure on lawmakers to reach a compromise and avoid such shutdowns.
Although a government shutdown technically would begin Oct. 1, bimonthly military paychecks scheduled for that day would be unaffected because they are processed in the final days of September.
Individual troops and civilians should stand by and await further direction during the next several days, Work said.
"Your chain of command will be reaching out to you to provide additional detail on our contingency plans and your status under a potential lapse," he wrote in Friday's memo.
Defense officials say the response to a government shutdown this year would be very similar to the one that occurred in 2013:
Many civilian employees would face temporary furlough, though DoD would identify thousands of workers as "essential" and order them to continue on their jobs. If Congress authorizes payments for military personnel, the civilians who process those checks would likely be declared essential employees.
Overseas operations would continue into October regardless of a shutdown, but still could suffer some impact due to the civilian furloughs.
In addition, a shutdown and civilian furloughs would dramatically slow or entirely halt many of the military's administrative functions and impact key civilian-run services such as military health care, child care, commissaries and other on-base services.
Staff writer Leo Shane III contributed to this report
Andrew Tilghman is the executive editor for Military Times. He is a former Military Times Pentagon reporter and served as a Middle East correspondent for the Stars and Stripes. Before covering the military, he worked as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle in Texas, the Albany Times Union in New York and The Associated Press in Milwaukee.