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Federal workers 'just happy to be back at work'

10:57 AM, Oct 17, 2013   |    comments
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Federal buildings, parks and programs across the nation were creaking back into service Thursday, hours after congressional leaders brokered a deal to reopen the government.

Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell issued a memorandum announcing that the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who had been furloughed were to return to work Thursday.

"This has been a particularly challenging time for Federal employees and I want to thank our nation's dedicated civil servants for their continued commitment to serving the American people," Burwell said in a statement.

Much of the government, designated as essential, never closed. And Great Smoky Mountain National Park was among a handful of parks that reopened before the government did, aided by state and local funding.

But on Thursday, Twitter was alive with news from departments and institutions heralding their reopenings - most including exclamation points.

Yosemite National Park kept it short and sweet: "Yosemite National Park is open!"

NASA: We're back and in the process of turning things back on! http://www.nasa.gov and #NASA TV will be up as soon as possible!

Smithsonian: "We're back from the #shutdown! Smithsonian museums will reopen on Thursday and the @NationalZoo will reopen on Friday."

The pandacam at the National Zoo was back up and running at 10 a.m.

The good news was tweeted from as far away as the Red Planet. Mars rover Curiosity: Allow me to reintroduce myself. I'm back on Twitter & even closer to Mars' Mount Sharp.

Back on Earth, Lisa Jenkins, of McLean, Va., reported back to her job in IT with the Environmental Protection Agency at 7 a.m. She was furloughed when the government partial shutdown began Oct. 1.

"At first we thought the shutdown might last forever, then when they decided they would pay us for the time we missed we thought it might be settled more quickly," Jenkins said. Jenkins, who spent much of her furlough time working on a rural Virginia home she and her husband are converting into a bed and breakfast, has worked at the EPA for 23 years and says she loves her job.

"I am just happy to be back at work," she said.

Nick Schwellenbach, a senior fiscal policy analyst for the Center for Effective Government, says it could take a few weeks for agencies with large numbers of furloughed workers to be fully operational.

"It was a two-week shutdown, that's not an insignificant amount of time, and work piles up," he says. He says agencies that process applications, such as the IRS, may take a while to catch up on any backlogs created during the shutdown. At the National Institutes of Health, "a scientist whose experiments were interrupted and ruined may need to start over," he says.

Leaders of some social programs that rely on federal dollars expressed relief that the government was back in business. National Head Start program director Yasmina Vinci issued a statement saying she was "encouraged" by the deal that ended the shutdown.

"We look forward to working with Congress to adopt a responsible, forward looking fiscal policy that stops the damage being done by sequestration and enables programs like Head Start to provide the highest quality early learning opportunities to our poorest children," Vinci said in a statement.

Still, the glee of Thursday could be shortlived. The bipartisan agreement that reopened the government is temporary. January could bring more controversy -- and more furloughs.

The 1.7 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in 566 federally recognized tribes rely heavily on federal funding. While police continued to work and hospitals stayed open, the shutdown cut off funding to reservations for foster care payments, nutrition programs and financial assistance for the poor.

"There's still a lot of work to be done in the coming weeks for lawmakers to reach an agreement on a budget beyond January 15," Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley said in a statement. "During the budget negotiation process lawmakers must remember their trust obligations to Indian Country under federal laws and treaties. Indian Country has been severely damaged by Congress' delay in reopening the government, an experience we do not wish to repeat."

You don't have to be heavily reliant on federal funding to be concerned.

In Fort Myers, Fla., Bill Wiemer, 64, said he's "deeply upset with the Republicans and Democrats being so selfish and not being able to put the country first."

The real problem is the country's debt, according to Wiemer. The proposed deal "hasn't solved the problem in the long run," Wiemer said.

"The government shutdown has been harming folks in Montana and the nation, so it's good they're getting it resolved," said Tim Shanks, 60, in Great Falls, Mont. "Hopefully they can get it done permanently and not just extend the argument out. We need to get things back to normal and move on."

Nick Schwellenbach, a senior fiscal policy analyst for the Center for Effective Government, says it could take a few weeks for agencies with large numbers of furloughed workers to be fully operational.

"It was a two-week shutdown, that's not an insignificant amount of time, and work piles up," he says. He says agencies that process applications, such as the IRS, may take a while to catch up on any backlogs created during the shutdown.

He says other agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, which are heavily involved in research, might take months to recover from the shutdown.
"A scientist whose experiments were interrupted and ruined may need to start over," he says.

 

John Bacon, USA TODAY

Gannett/USA Today

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