Furloughed Oklahoma defense workers back on duty, but uncertainty lingers

Thousands of Department of Defense employees across the country and about 2,700 at Tinker Air Force Base returned to work Monday. But uncertainty remains for the future about the politics involved in the government shutdown.
BY PHILLIP O'CONNOR poconnor@opubco.com Modified: October 7, 2013 at 7:08 pm •  Published: October 8, 2013

— Thousands of Department of Defense employees returned to work across Oklahoma on Monday, including about 2,700 at Tinker Air Force Base, but anxiety still lingers over Washington's inability to compromise to end a government shutdown.

Carl Dahms, president of the American Federation for Government Employees Local 916, which represents about 10,700 Tinker employees, said many members fear they might be used again as political weapons in the ongoing battle to delay President Barack Obama's signature health care law. And without a compromise soon to keep the government operating, some worry about when their next paycheck may be coming and how much it will contain.

“The biggest thing for everybody right now is the unknown,” Dahms said. “Nobody knows ... what's going to happen tomorrow. It's a worry for everybody. If I have to start coming into work and I'm not going to get paid until a month or two months down the road, what am I going to do?”

The recalled employees rejoined more than 11,000 other Tinker civilian workers who were not affected by the furlough.

“While the recall provides for the continued support of service members, it does not resolve other critical problems associated with the lapse of appropriations. The absence of appropriations remains extremely disruptive and we remain hopeful that the budget uncertainty will be resolved quickly,” installation commander Col. Christopher Azzano said in a statement.

The partial shutdown that began last week sent home an estimated 400,000 Department of Defense workers nationwide, before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered over the weekend that they return to work. But for many, uncertainly remains.

Keith Pannell was among the 2,650 civilians who returned to work Monday at Fort Sill, the state's largest Army installation, but isn't certain when he'll next be paid.

>>Read: Help offered to Oklahoma City-area furloughed workers

The House approved a bill Saturday to ensure all federal employees get their full pay after spending resumes. President Barack Obama said he would sign the measure but the Senate has yet to take up the matter.

“To be honest, we don't know exactly what's going on,” said Pannell, a public affairs specialist. “It makes it difficult to plan anything. I know I have bills coming up that are due and I don't know if I'll be able to pay all those bills.”