First Day Back After Shutdown Appears to Go Smoothly Amid Bitter Feelings

With the Washington Monument in the distance, Park Service police officers stand on duty at the Lincoln Memorial. With the Washington Monument in the distance, Park Service police officers stand on duty at the Lincoln Memorial. Susan Walsh/AP

Though a few agency websites and out-of-office email messages were still stuck in shutdown mode, most of the federal government by mid-day Thursday appeared to be back in business -- or close to it.

Following on late Wednesday’s news coverage, the White House budget director’s midnight announcement and the Office of Personnel Management’s push-out email notification, many employees received confirmation from their supervisors -- electronically or by phone -- that they were expected to return to work.

“The recall was rather straightforward,” Christopher Vaccaro, director of public affairs at the National Weather Service, told Government Executive after watching 650 employees come back. “Aside from watching the news, I received two official notifications: a notice from OPM and an email to my personal address from my supervisor. Personal email addresses were collected prior to the shutdown since we're unable to use government resources during the shutdown. I was in the office at my typical 7:30 a.m.”

At the Environmental Protection Agency, where 17,000 employees returned to receive a visit from Vice President Joe Biden, steps to reopen included “notifying employees of timing to return to work, ensuring that EPA facilities and building operations return to normal as quickly as possible and conducting maintenance to ensure that IT services are prepared,” said spokeswoman Alisha Johnson. “EPA employees will work to tackle the three-week backlog on pesticide imports and other services as quickly as possible. Delays, however, are expected in this process. Other important actions that did not take place during the shutdown, like air, water and hazardous waste inspections, cannot be made up.”

At the Education Department, Secretary Arne Duncan roamed the hallways to greet staff, a spokesman said. Duncan put out an email to the “ED family” that thanked the small group of information technology staffers and grant competition monitors who kept things going. The message read, in part:

I would normally start a message to all of you with “Dear Colleagues,” but what has been normal about the last three weeks? Given what we’ve all been through -- and the support I’ve seen so many of you give to your coworker -- “family” seems like a better way to acknowledge the ties that we at this agency have to each other and to the vital work we do together. Welcome back. I know this was an incredibly challenging time, and I share your frustration over the impact of closing the federal government -- the impact on you, your families and your colleagues, and on the critical work you do each day on behalf of our nation’s students and educators. Thank you for your patience and commitment in getting through this.

At the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the daily email news round-up opened with a cheery greeting, “And we’re back! This is a longer edition than normal in trying to cover the highlights of the last 17 days. Regularly portioned BBG Media Highlights will resume tomorrow.”

Various agency-dependent interest groups weighed in with commentary on the shutdown’s end. American Foreign Service Association President Robert J. Silverman praised the new law’s guarantee of back pay for furloughed employees, saying, “This unfortunate spectacle is now over. Our diplomatic and development professionals can now continue to promote American interests around the world. The Foreign Service will be able to return to its duties, which include the protection of American citizens abroad, the promotion of American business and agriculture, and the carrying out of development and disaster assistance.”

Patricia Niehaus, national president of the Federal Managers Association, said in a statement, "Federal employees across the nation are excited to return to work. FMA members are dedicated patriots who strive to serve their fellow man. The past 16 days have been difficult; federal employees worked without pay and there was a drastic reduction in services provided."

William Thien, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his group “appreciates the compromise and is pleased the government has reopened, but the short-term funding package brings little assurance to America’s veteran and military communities that what just ended won’t happen again in three months.”

Newspaper editorial boards in communities across the country with concentrations of federal employees weighed in, in some cases taking contrasting positions on where the value lies. The company town Washington Post editorial on Thursday observed that “even as plans are made to get 800,000 furloughed government workers back on the job and give them back pay, the damage done since Oct. 1 has to be remembered. … For many, the loss of back-to-back paychecks was not, as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, so cavalierly declared, a ‘temporary inconvenience.’ ”

The Arizona Daily Sun, published out of Flagtaff and close to Grand Canyon National Park, emphasized the contributions of “local heroes” for improvements to the community earlier this year and during the shutdown.

“We suppose that now that the Grand Canyon has been open a week and the entire federal government is set to reopen today, some kind of congratulations are in order,” it opined. “Congress, after all, did not allow the entire economy to go into meltdown, no matter how hard it seemed to try. But we’d much prefer giving recognition where it is due, which is right here in Flagstaff for good deeds and causes that have nothing to do with budgets and debt limits.”

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