Experts shocked, baffled that thousands of intelligence workers were furloughed as part of shutdown

posted at 6:01 pm on October 16, 2013 by Allahpundit

The stories about the Park Service barricading memorials are irresistible as examples of petty harassment of the public to build opposition to the shutdown, but this McClatchy piece about intel furloughs is far more consequential. Take five minutes to read it all. It’s a true scandal, either a case of shocking incompetence by Clapper or the most sinister form of shutdown theater that the feds have engaged in.

Darrell Issa’s House committee spent the morning grilling the head of the Park Service about the Barrycading of federal parks but this is what they should really be holding hearings on. And Clapper’s job, which should have been taken from him long ago after he lied to Congress about the extent of NSA snooping, should be taken now. One simple question: Did the Director of National Intelligence decide to send thousands of his employees home despite believing that American lives depended upon them staying put?

Note that it isn’t Republican congressmen who find this mystifying. It’s industry experts, at least one of whom has a name you’ll recognize.

A review by McClatchy finds that lawmakers, former intelligence officials and national security experts say they were shocked that the administration furloughed the bulk of federal workers at 16 intelligence agencies, many of them tasked with the most important job in the government: safeguarding lives.

“It’s difficult for me to understand,” said Leon Panetta, who served as the director of the CIA and the secretary of defense under President Barack Obama. “People that are involved in our intelligence are critical. You can’t possibly put 70 percent on furlough and not harm national security.”…

[Some] say the process was surprisingly haphazard – a moving target based on public pressure, differing legal opinions, a new law passed to ensure that the military got paid, even a change of heart.

J. David Cox Sr., the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 670,000 federal workers, said some managers had changed their minds after being criticized by the public or lawmakers.

“There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to it,” he said. “They keep changing the rules. As the pressure is on, they’re saying, ‘Just come back to work.’”

Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said a “simple reading” of [OMB/DOJ shutdown guideline] documents should have persuaded officials at intelligence agencies that civilian employees shouldn’t have been sent home. “They should never have been furloughed if there was a risk to loss of life,” he said.

You’re supposed to furlough “nonessential” employees. When asked whether he thought employees who help prevent American citizens from being killed are “nonessential,” Clapper said no but that he was forced to make “painful choices.” His defenders argue that not until Congress passed a law during the shutdown reinstating pay for federal employees who provide direct support to the military was he legally authorized to bring civilians back from furlough. But that’s belied not only by Harrison’s point in the excerpt but the fact that Clapper himself reinstated some employees at agencies like the National Counterterrorism Center just a day after he appeared before Congress on October 2. Even if you accept the good-faith explanation that his lawyers told him he didn’t have statutory authority to bring people back right away, this makes twice that the defense/intelligence wings of the government decided to read the law bizarrely narrowly rather than expansively. The first time was when the Pentagon decided it couldn’t pay death benefits to the families of fallen troops; that came as a surprise to House Armed Services Committee chair Buck McKeon, who thought the bill Congress passed reinstating pay for the military was broad enough to cover that. McKeon was surprised at the intel furloughs too, saying, “Though I do not believe the law required these hundreds of thousands of workers to be furloughed in the first place, it is welcome news” that they were reinstated.

So why were they furloughed to begin with? While you ponder that, via the Free Beacon here’s NPS chief Jon Jarvis at today’s hearing admitting that he discussed the closures with the White House — but that they were all his idea, don’tcha know.


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