* Hagel says triggering funding crisis "astoundinglyirresponsible"
* Some 400,000 civilian defense workers face unpaid leave
* New or extended contracts affected under DefenseDepartment contingency plan
By David Alexander
ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Sept 28 (Reuters) - DefenseSecretary Chuck Hagel appealed on Saturday for U.S. lawmakers totake action to avert a government shutdown next week, saying itwas "astoundingly irresponsible" to try to influencepolicymaking by triggering a funding crisis.
Hagel, speaking to reporters en route to Seoul to mark the60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea defense alliance, saidhe had spent much of the week working on future spending cutswhile planning for a shutdown next week that could force 400,000civilian defense workers to take unpaid leave.
For many of the civilians it would be the second time in asmany months they have been forced to take unpaid leave. Morethan 600,000 civilian U.S. defense employees were required totake unpaid leave in early August in a bid to reduce spendingafter across-the-board budget cuts went into force in March.
"When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, thelargest economy in the world, and we're putting our peoplethrough this - that's not leadership, that's abdication ofresponsibilities," Hagel said.
"This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern," headded, saying he hoped members of Congress would work to find"some common ground to govern and at least make the bigdecisions in the larger interest of this country."
Funding for many U.S. government operations runs out nextweek with the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, and unlessCongress reaches a deal to pay for its activities, much of thegovernment will be forced to shut down. Only certain activitiespermitted under law are allowed to continue, officials said.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives isexpected later on Saturday to vote on a bill to fund the U.S.government in the new fiscal year but with a delay onimplementation of President Barack Obama's 2010 healthcare law.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, has said theDemocratic-controlled Senate would not accept any fundingmeasure aimed at derailing "Obamacare" and the White House haspromised to veto the legislation if it passes Congress.
Failure to pass a funding bill would close down much of thegovernment for the first time since 1996.
A contingency plan released by the Defense Department onFriday said the Pentagon's 1.4 million uniformed militarypersonnel would continue to report to work in the event of ashutdown. But about half of the 800,000 civilian employees wouldbe placed on unpaid leave.
The plan said contractors working under fully fundedagreements awarded before appropriations ran out would continueworking, but new or extended contracts could not be executed.
"No funds will be available to pay such new contracts orplace additional increments of funding on contracts untilCongress appropriates additional funds," the contingency plansaid.
Hagel said treatment of civilians under the law governingshutdowns was short-sighted because civilians provided much ofthe support structure for the military.
"When you look at the defense of America, it isn't just themilitary," he said. "Our civilian employees, our civiliancomponents, are integral parts of the defense and security ofthe United States. ... The entire support base for our military,the fighters, comes from the civilian community."
Hagel's trip to Asia is the third since he took office atthe end of February. It comes as Obama's administration shiftssome of its strategic focus to the Asia-Pacific region followingmore than a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While in Seoul, Hagel also will take part in consultativemeetings on the future direction of the U.S.-South Koreasecurity alliance and attend a change of command ceremony forU.S. forces in Korea.
Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the former director of theU.S. Joint Staff, will take over as commander of U.S. forces inKorea from Army General James Thurman.
Army General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. JointChiefs of Staff, and Admiral Samuel Locklear, the head of U.S.Pacific Command, also will be attending the meetings in Korea.
After four days in South Korea, Hagel will travel to Tokyowhere he and Secretary of State John Kerry will participate inso-called two-plus-two talks with their Japanese counterparts,the first time they have done so in Japan.
"Especially at a time when the United States in particularis focused on internal domestic issues, beginning with thebudget ... I think it's very, very important that we continue toassure our allies in this region of the world that we arecommitted to these alliances," Hagel said.
- Politics & Government
- Military & Defense
- government shutdown