Most of the estimated 350,000 civilian employees furloughed by the Defense Department during the US government shutdown will be recalled to work, the Pentagon said Saturday.
Pentagon officials estimated that about 90 percent or more of civilian employees would be allowed to return to their jobs, and aimed to bring many back as soon as Monday.
"These people want to get back to work, and we want them back at work," Defense Department Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters in a conference call.
Pentagon lawyers concluded that a measure signed by President Barack Obama earlier in the week allows employees "whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members" to be exempted from the shutdown.
The Pay Our Military Act provided that the 1.4 million active duty troops serving worldwide, including service members in Afghanistan, would still get paid.
"I expect us to be able to significantly reduce -- but not eliminate -- civilian furloughs under this process," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said about the latest move.
Hale said he expected to "bring most of them back, that no more than a few tens of thousands will remain on furlough and it may be substantially less than that."
Pentagon officials said they expect that inspectors dealing with defense contracts would be able to return to work.
The shutdown has had a significant impact on major defense contractors with huge contracts with the federal government.
Some of the companies, including Lockheed Martin, had announced plans to furlough thousands of workers.
Much of the Defense Department's civilian workforce is employed at bases across the country, and the military relies on them to keep equipment running and logistical networks humming.
Officials had lowered the estimated number of furloughed civilian defense employees from 400,000 to 350,000.
The move to recall civilian workers 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.
"It's very good news," Republican Senator John Thune told AFP.
"I think that was what most of us intended when we moved that military pay bill, was that it applied not just to people who were directly members of the services but also people who were employed by them to carry out important functions and missions."
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon hailed the move as "welcome news."
"I am very pleased to see so many of our national security workforce will be able to return to work," he added in a statement.
"Congress gave the Executive Branch broad authority to keep our Armed Forces and dedicated defense civilians working throughout the government 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.