Meet the guy who’s been told he’s non-essential – three times; South Korea wants more time; No Early Bird today; The Pentagon spent billions before shutdown; Trashing memories at Arlington; and a bit more.
- By Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.
By Gordon Lubold
Oh, to be termed "non-essential." Three times. You gotta feel for a guy named Erik Brine. Brine, a major in the Air Force Reserve and a C-17 pilot, normally works on the Air Force staff as a civilian general service employee. But for part of this year, he is on loan to Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine’s office as a Presidential Management Fellow. Meanwhile, as a member of the Air Force Reserve, he spends about two months of the year working at the Pentagon’s public affairs shop. Bad week to be so uber. Brine just got done finding out he’s "non-essential" in all three jobs.
It’s tough, said the father of four, "to be non-essential, essentially everywhere I work," he told Situation Report this morning. Yesterday, he first reported to the Air Force at the Pentagon to fill out paperwork to enter furlough status. Then he went to Capitol Hill to be formally furloughed from that job. (Because of the government shutdown, all three of Kaine’s advisers on national security are furloughed. That’s a tough one – Kaine serves on both the Senate Armed Services and the Senate Foreign Relations committees.) Then Brine headed back to the Pentagon yesterday, only to be told that his orders to report as a Reservist at the public affairs shop had also been cancelled, since Reservists are also not considered essential. In fact, Brine was expecting to be promoted this week to lieutenant colonel at the Pentagon while on duty – by Kaine. He’ll still get promoted, but his plans have to be scrapped. Yesterday was a tough one at the office.
"I spent a very full day getting temporarily canned all over town," Brine told Situation Report. "So now the joke is that I got the furlough hat trick. I’ve got a bunch of jobs and no income. So much for hard work paying off."
You know what else is furloughed at the Pentagon? The Early Bird. Yup, the daily must-read compendium of defense stories that usually arrives in inboxes at about 5:40 a.m. each day has been shut down. And that’s why you didn’t get it e-mailed to you this morning.
The Department of Defense has had to furlough about 18 percent of its workers. Look at this cool bar chart that shows which federal agency is hardest hit by the government shutdown (NASA the worst, with 97 percent furloughed; Veterans Affairs only about 4 pecent.) Check it out, here.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is receiving updates about the furlough as he winds up a weeklong trip to Asia. Hagel told reporters yesterday that he was working with top Pentagon officials to determine if the pool of those being furloughed – about 400,000 civilian workers – could be reduced. Meantime, a senior defense official told us: "Secretary Hagel spoke by phone from Tokyo today with senior Department leaders in Washington to discuss the shutdown. He remains deeply concerned about our furloughed civilian employees, impacts to our mission, and our credibility with foreign partners."
Buck McKeon thinks Hagel’s on to something. Hagel’s attempt to work through the Pentagon’s general counsel to see if the Pentagon can expand the list of excepted employees – thereby shrinking the number of defense civilians who have to be furloughed is the right tack, Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a letter to Hagel yesterday. "I believe the legislation provides you broad latitude and I encourage you to use it," McKeon wrote in a letter provided to Situation Report. "…I strongly encourage you to use the authority Congress has given you to keep national security running, rather than keeping defense civilians at home when they are authorized to work."
Buzzfeed’s listicle of 23 things that aren’t shut down in the U.S. Capitol – includes ugly artwork, coffee shop. Check that out here.
Commissaries in CONUS are closed, but open overseas. Click for that 411 here.
Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report where we’re still in Asia with Hagel and running a bit late on this government shutdown day. We’re in Tokyo for the next couple days, returning with the Secretary Friday. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us at email@example.com and we’ll stick you on. And if you have a report you want teased, a piece of news, or a good tidbit, send it to us early for maximum tease. Remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report. That and please follow us @glubold.
Situation Report corrects – Dave Helvey, who is the senior policy person traveling with Hagel in Asia is no longer in an "acting" position, as we said earlier this week. Indeed, Helvey is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense for East Asia, confirmed earlier this year.
BTW: On the eve of the government shutdown, the Pentagon spent billions. FP’s John Reed: "The Pentagon pumped billions of dollars into contractors’ bank accounts on the eve of the U.S. government’s shutdown that saw 400,000 Defense Department employees furloughed. All told, the Pentagon awarded 94 contracts yesterday evening on its annual end-of-the-fiscal-year spending spree, spending more than five billion dollars on everything from robot submarines to Finnish hand grenades and a radar base mounted on an offshore oil platform. To put things in perspective, the Pentagon gave out only 14 contracts on September 3, the first workday of the month." Read here to see some of the more interesting purchases from what Reed terms "Monday’s dollar-dump."
Bloomberg analysts say the defense industry could lose $1 billion per day during the shutdown. Bloomberg Government’s senior defense analyst Rob Levinson and senior budget analyst Cameron Leuthy, earlier this week but still relevant: "What is iffy is the big weapons stuff like Lockheed Martin’s F-35 or General Dynamics submarines or other big new weapons systems. It seems it is all up to the Secretary under the bill.?Under a traditional shutdown, some payments to federal government contractors stop. Expenditures on new defense contracts aren’t allowed, and payments could stop flowing on previously-funded contracts, because government employees that pay bills could be sent home.? But the impact of a government shut-down on business depends on the nature of the business. Federal contractors have the most at stake but the funding sources, contract terms and nature of the work all matter — not all contractors face the same risks." More on what they said here.
Guess what? Odierno doesn’t like the shutdown, either. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno on Wednesday urged a quick resolution to the shutdown issue, saying it was wreaking havoc on the Army’s day-to-day operations. Odierno, to Reuters: "It is going to be difficult for us to do anything. We won’t be doing training like we normally would, we won’t be travelling, we won’t be doing the coordination necessary, only mission-essential tasks." Odierno told Reuters that the shutdown "impacts significantly day-to-day operations". Odierno continued: "The longer it goes on, the worse it gets. Every day that goes by, we are losing manpower, we are losing capability, so in my mind it is important we get this resolved." Full story here.
Seoul says: give me just a little more time. When it comes to taking charge of coalition forces on the Korean Peninsula, the Republic of Korea has been a little gun shy. The ROK and the U.S. this week are celebrating the 60-year anniversary of an alliance forged after the Korean War that was much-heralded this week in Seoul, where there were two parades, a big dinner, video retrospectives and a lot of talk of katchi kapshida, – "we stand together." The alliance, a centerpiece of the Pentagon’s pivot to Asia, is more dynamic than ever, Republic of Korea and American officials took pains to say this week. "We can’t underestimate the true strength of this — of the blood alliance," Gen. J.D. Thurman, the retiring commander of forces in South Korea, told reporters on Monday.
But after decades of confidence building, joint exercises and billions in military assistance, it’s time for the South Koreans to step up and assume what’s called "operational control" of all forces in South Korea if war should break out. The problem is, the South Koreans aren’t quite ready.
Currently the U.S. retains authority of all forces in South Korea. If there were to be a significant provocation from the North, for example, the American commander in South Korea would assume control not only of his own force of about 28,000, but South Korea’s as well. For years, the U.S. has wanted to hand over control of the forces – "op-con" in military parlance – to the the ROK. But past efforts to formalize the transfer of control, in 2009 and 2012, never went through. Now the transfer is scheduled again for 2015. But once again, the South Koreans want to delay it.
On Wednesday, South Korean Minister of Defense Kim Kwan Jin and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in town for talks with the South Koreans, issued a joint statement that formally accept an approach long sought by South Korea to a "conditions-based" transfer – diplomatic code for giving the South Koreans as much time as they need. Now neither side will commit to saying just when operational control might occur.
The two countries also signed a new pact to deter North Korean’s potential use of nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction as concerns grow about what North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un is capable of. That pact was also a little vague, and defense officials trying to explain what it did used words like "framework" to describe the new approach, which itself was a work in progress. In the end, it will be seen as a confidence-building measure for the South Koreans at a time when they need it. "It’s a new strategy that creates enhanced deterrence," said a military official in briefing reporters.
Read our full story later today on FP here.
Trashing memories: cleaning up Arlington National Cemetery’s "Section 60" means throwing mementos in the dumpster. After years of allowing family members of loved ones killed during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to leave mementos on or near the headstones, the caretakers at Arlington decided to clean the place up, discarding the mementos not "deemed worth of retention." The WaPo’s Greg Jaffe: "Over the past weeks, a quiet transformation has taken place in Section 60, leaving family members of the dead feeling hurt, saddened and bewildered. Today, Section 60 resembles the quiet cemetery of an older generation’s war, not the raw, messy burial ground of one still being fought. Even within the hallowed ground at Arlington, Section 60 is special, a living memorial to an ongoing war." Arlington spokesperson Jennifer Lynch: "The policy hasn’t changed… The policy is the same, but the enforcement is different." Read the rest here.