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Most of the estimated 400,000 civilian employees furloughed by the Defense Department during the US government shutdown will be recalled to work, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said Saturday.
"Today I am announcing that most DoD civilians placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown will be asked to return to work beginning next week," he said in a statement.
Hagel said Pentagon lawyers had concluded the law allows employees "whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members" to be exempted from the shutdown.
"I expect us to be able to significantly reduce -- but not eliminate -- civilian furloughs under this process," he said.
The move came on the fifth day of a government shutdown caused by a budget impasse between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-held Senate.
The Defense Department accounts for roughly half of the 800,000 government workers sent home at the start of the shutdown.
Earlier Saturday, the House unanimously approved a measure to pay furloughed government workers retroactively, in a another move to ease the pressure.
But there were no overt signs of negotiations to end the crisis, as leaders of both camps blamed each other.