For more than 7,000 of Fort Bragg's civilian workers, last week was a tough one. With Congress deadlocked on a budget resolution and a struggle over Obamacare, the federal government observed the beginning of its new fiscal year Tuesday by sending all nonessential employees home.
How long those furloughs will last is still unclear. And so is the question of whether the workers will be paid retroactively.
"Most people weren't planning on half a paycheck," said Jonathan Steele, president of Local 1770 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents many Fort Bragg employees. "They didn't have a lot of time to prepare."
Nobody did. It appears that most federal agencies waited until the last minute to deal with the possibility that many government operations would cease when the budget expired. More than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed, and thousands more state employees paid fully or partially by federal funding were also sent home.
Since Congress has passed several stopgap budget measures that restore key parts of government funding, it was unclear last week why many Fort Bragg employees weren't back on the job.
The Pay Our Military Act, signed by the president Monday, ensured that soldiers' pay would continue without interruption. But other portions of the act included provisions for paying the military's civilian employees and contractors. So why were more than 400,0000 Defense Department civilians laid off anyway?
Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn is asking the same question. "This was signed into law by President Obama and has been in effect since Monday, yet the president is refusing to enforce it," the Republican from the 2nd Congressional District said. "Here we have a situation where I have needless, needless suffering happening in my district," she said on the House floor Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials seemed remarkably uncertain about whether or not they could bring the civilian employees back. "Our lawyers are now looking through the law ... to see if there's any margin here ..." Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wrote Tuesday. By the end of the week, it appears, the lawyers were still looking.
We know that legislation can be written in confusing language, but really, how many days does it take to translate a straightforward law? As time passes, it's getting easier to believe Fort Bragg's civilians and their 400,000 colleagues are being held hostage in this power struggle.