Coast Guard says it’s found a way to pay military members after all

In an 11th hour reversal, the Coast Guard said Friday night that it has found the means to pay its uniformed service members’ salaries despite the ongoing government shutdown.

Earlier this week, the service told its 41,000 military personnel that they would miss the paychecks due to them on Dec. 31 unless Congress passed an appropriations bill or continuing resolution for the Department of Homeland Security by midday on Friday. That did not happen.

But in a message to service members, the Coast Guard said it had found legal and accounting mechanisms that would ensure Monday’s paycheck for both active duty members and reservists will arrive on time, and in full.

“The administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Coast Guard have identified a way to pay our military workforce on 31 December 2018,” wrote Adm. Charles Ray, the Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard. “This one-time action applies to military members that served on active duty in the month of December and those reserve military members that drilled prior to the lapse in appropriation.”

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Previously, the Coast Guard had said its military members’ next paycheck would be delayed indefinitely until Congress passes a DHS spending bill, even though the pay period — which began on Dec. 16 — included several days that preceded the Dec. 22 government shutdown. Military pay systems, they explained, do not allow for partial paychecks.

But on Friday, leaders said the next paycheck would include payment both for shutdown and non-shutdown days.

“Generally, the Coast Guard lacks the authority to pay its members during a lapse in appropriations. The circumstances of this lapse are unique because of the timeline of the lapse in relation to the military pay process.  Ultimately, extensive research and legal analysis between the Coast Guard, DHS, and OMB determined the Coast Guard has the authority to execute the remainder of pay and allowances for December,” officials wrote in a message on the service’s website.

It remained unclear whether the service would be able to pay its military personnel beyond next Monday if a shutdown continues.

“If we have a continued lapse in appropriations, there is no guarantee that Coast Guard members will get paid on January 15,” Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman told Federal News Network via email Friday night.

The Coast Guard did not immediately respond to requests for details about the loopholes it had discovered that let it pay its members on time.

And the service did not address pay for its civilian personnel in Friday’s update, although those workers were already expected to receive a full paycheck on Dec. 31, because the last civilian pay period ended on the same day the shutdown began.

Retirees will also see a full payment next week, since they are paid from other funding sources. But the Coast Guard cautioned that their pay could be delayed as well if the shutdown drags on into February.

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