With the U.S. Congress apparently on course to force a partial government shutdown Tuesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel criticized the legislative body while aboard a military aircraft en route from the U.S. to South Korea Saturday night, multiple media outlets reported.

“When you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world, and we’re putting our people through this -- that’s not leadership, that’s abdication of responsibilities,” the Associated Press quoted Hagel as telling reporters on his plane. “This is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern.”

The defense secretary added, “It is really dangerously shortsighted and irresponsible, because what this will lead to in the United States of America, if this continues, is we will have a country that’s ungovernable.”

On Friday, Defense Department Comptroller Robert F. Hale said that if the U.S. government is partially shut down in the coming week, then about one-half of the department’s civilian workforce of 800,000 would be furloughed until either an appropriations bill or a continuing resolution is approved, according to the American Forces Press Service.

Furloughs related to a government shutdown would be different from the ones instituted earlier this year, Hale said. “The sequester furloughs sought to reduce costs, and we had the authority to design them to reduce costs and to reflect policies like minimizing effects on readiness,” he noted. In the current case, however, the Defense Department’s actions are guided by applicable law. “Specifically, the law says that in the event of a lapse of appropriations, DOD can only conduct activities designed to protect safety of life and property and carry out a few other activities,” he pointed out.

If appropriations lapse, then the Defense Department can support specific military operations such as in Afghanistan, Hale said. “We can also maintain emergency services, police, fire, emergency medical,” he said. “We label the activities that can continue as excepted activities.”

As a result, civilian workers who support these excepted activities would continue to work. “But all other civilian workers who do not primarily support excepted activities would be placed in a nonduty, nonpay status on an emergency no-notice basis at the time the lapse occurs,” Hale said.

Speaking to reporters Saturday while en route to mark the 60th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea defense alliance, Hagel said the shabby treatment of civilians under the law governing shutdowns was shortsighted because civilians provided a great deal of the support structure for the military, Reuters reported.

“When you look at the defense of America, it isn’t just the military,” Hagel said. “Our civilian employees, our civilian components, are integral parts of the defense and security of the United States. ... The entire support base for our military, the fighters, comes from the civilian community.”