Federal Employees Are Headed Back to Work Thursday

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Obama early Thursday signed into law a bill that reopens the federal government and suspends the debt limit until February 2014.

The legislation – which passed the Senate 81-18 and the House 285-144 – would fund the government through Jan. 15, and suspend the debt limit through Feb. 7. It funds most agencies at fiscal 2013 post-sequestration levels, and will allow the Treasury secretary to continue taking extraordinary measures to meet the country’s financial obligations. Such measures often include halting daily reinvestment of the government securities (G) fund in the Thrift Savings Plan.

The law also includes language granting back pay for the roughly 900,000 federal employees who were forced to take unpaid leave during some or all of the shutdown. Employees who worked during the closings were already guaranteed pay, though their paychecks were delayed.

It is unclear exactly how long it will be before most federal employees actually receive their pay. Military members and reservists, as well as the civilians and contractors supporting them, have been paid on time during the shutdown under the Pay Our Military Act.

All employees should expect to report to work on Thursday, Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell said in a statement. Policies on exact start times may vary by agency. Burwell encouraged employees to check the news and the Office of Personnel Management’s website for further information.

The re-opening will be especially noticeable at agencies that had almost all of their workforces furloughed. The National Science Foundation, Federal Communications Commission, NASA, Environmental Protection Agency, and Education and Housing and Urban Development departments all had more than 95 percent of their staff on unpaid leave, according to Government Executive estimates.

The Federal-Postal Coalition, a group of 31 national organizations that represents millions of federal and postal employees and retirees, expressed relief that furloughed government employees were heading back to work and receiving retroactive pay. “The shutdown of the past three weeks has been costly to the nation and to federal employees,” said Bruce Moyer, chairman of the coalition, in a statement. “It should never have occurred. As a result of today's agreement, Congress once again has kicked the can down the road, and serious budget issues remain to be decided.”

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. also noted in a statement earlier Wednesday that the solution was temporary. “We cannot accept another government shutdown in just a few short weeks” when funding runs out on Jan. 15, he said. “Federal workers and the public they serve have suffered enough.”

Charles S. Clark, Eric Katz and Kellie Lunney contributed to this report.

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