WASHINGTON _ The U.S. House approved a proposal by Rep. Tom Cole on Tuesday night that would prevent potential furloughs next year of some civilian Defense Department workers, including thousands at Tinker Air Force Base.
The amendment by Cole, R-Moore, would prohibit the Defense Department from furloughing workers who are paid out of accounts called working capital funds.
Tinker’s aircraft repair center operates with such a fund, functioning like a business that is paid by its customers. The money in the funds is not directly appropriated by Congress. Cole, whose district includes Tinker, and several other lawmakers believe that the department is not legally authorized to furlough employees paid from a working capital fund.
Supporters of Cole’s amendment argued Tuesday night that furloughing the workers doesn’t save money since they are paid from the separate accounts.
“They are a business that performs work and they are paid for it and the money’s already there,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-CA.
But Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-IN, said it wasn’t fair to make distinctions among federal employees.
“We ought to value all of their work collectively together,” he said.
About 650,000 Defense Department civilians have been forced to take 11 furlough days through September. That includes about 14,000 workers at Tinker and a total of 20,000 employees at all of Oklahoma’s military bases.
The majority of Tinker’s workers are paid from a working capital fund.
Pentagon leaders have not said whether furloughs will be necessary in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.Cole’s amendment still has a long journey to passage into law. It ultimately would have to be approved by the Senate and signed by the president.
Rep. Tom Cole