The writer, a Republican, is the U.S. House representative for Nebraska’s 2nd congressional district, serving since 1999.
Like most of my fellow citizens, I’m extremely frustrated at what’s happening in Washington, D.C. The days are long; tempers are short; and, as is the case for many of our fellow citizens caught up in this impasse, there is uncertainty.
That, however, is not an excuse for the words I chose in a recent interview with the Omaha World-Herald that I regret, and I’m sorry that I put my needs and concerns above others.
I’m frustrated at the level of political gamesmanship. Photo opportunities and gotcha politics are no way to govern a country.
It’s been made clear in the past two months that we live in a dangerous world and that the enemies of the United States will likely not wait for Congress and President Obama to agree on public policy.
That’s why Congress passed and the president signed into law bipartisan legislation called the Pay Our Military Act. The legislation clearly stated that funds would be made available to provide pay and allowances to (1) members of the Armed Forces and (2) the civilian personnel of the Department of Defense.
The intent of Congress in passing this law was that our military and civilian personnel would be retained and paid in the event of a government shutdown.
In spite of congressional intent, I learned that executive branch agencies — the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — ordered the acting undersecretary of the Air Force, Dr. Jamie Morin, to furlough nonessential civilian personnel beginning at midnight on the first of October.
When sequestration was implemented, the Department of Defense staggered civilian furloughs and worked to reduce the number of furlough days to six (even though I still believe that the Pentagon and White House can do better).
To be blunt, the decision to furlough all civilian employees at once angered me. I believed this to be illegal. This administration has never let a crisis go to waste — be it closing the FAA or closing the White House for tours — and I believed this move was politically motivated.
I contacted the commanders of the 55th Wing and StratCom who both assured me that despite these mass furloughs, they could successfully accomplish their mission. I have 100 percent confidence that our military commanders and the personnel who are left would rise to the occasion. But without proper support, it undeniably impacts their mission.
On Friday, I sent letters to President Obama and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel with the World-Herald column about the airplane mechanic as an example of how misguided this policy was. After all, how is an airplane mechanic not essential on an Air Force base?
I told the president “this policy is unacceptable and needs to be overruled.” I pointed out that these patriots, both civilian and military, who are defending our nation, have families and commitments and we must ensure that our inability to agree on public policy must not affect them.
I also had a personal meeting with Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who assured me he was working with Defense Secretary Hagel — who himself was pressuring the Department of Justice (DOJ) and White House to ensure that the administration was implementing the Pay Our Military Act as it was intended. Rep. McKeon informed me he planned a hearing on this very issue this coming Thursday and was pressuring the White House as well.
I was pleased to see the news on Saturday that Secretary Hagel recalled most furloughs of civilian personnel at Offutt Air Force Base and elsewhere across the country and that the Pay Our Military Act was finally being implemented as was intended by Congress when the legislation was signed into law.
I’m glad this is being resolved, and I remain committed to working in a bipartisan fashion to rebooting America and getting the rest of our government back to work to serve our fellow countrymen.