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Federal employees relieved to return
Closure notices came down, barriers at federal memorials were removed and thousands of furloughed federal workers returned to work across the country Thursday after 16 days off the job due to the partial government shutdown.
Among the sites reopening were Yosemite National Park in California, the Smithsonian Institutions network of museums and the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., which had been the scene of protests over the shutdown.
Also returning to work were employees on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
“I’m glad to be back,” said Forest Supervisor John Laurence. “There are a few of us who were around making sure the issues of public safety and protection of public property were taken care of.”
Laurence said the first day back was one of assessing where they left off Sept. 30.
“We’re focused on getting our work and our public service turned back on and up to speed,” he said.
Shutting the unit down wasn’t easy — nor will be reopening.
“It’s quite a chore to shut things down in an orderly fashion,” he said. The shutdown involved many moving parts from posting closure notices at campgrounds to working with timber contractors. “So now we’ll be doing the same thing as we get started up.”
The federal workers who were furloughed or worked without pay during the shutdown will get back pay in their next paychecks, which for most employees come Oct. 29.
The Defense Department called back about 7,000 furloughed civilians. In an open letter to the workforce, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the department still faces budget uncertainty as Congress struggles to pass a 2014 spending bill and deal with automatic budget cuts. Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said Thursday that the department lost at least $600 million worth of productivity during the four days that civilians were furloughed.
Still others move forward with uncertainty. Carmen Gentry, food bank manager at Community Connection of Northeast Oregon, said she’s not sure how the shutdown could affect them.
“We are relieved that the government shutdown is over, but we are still not sure how it will ultimately affect our programs,” Gentry said. “We are doing business as usual, providing services where we can and getting food into the hands of people who need it.”
Patrice Roberts, who works for the Department of Homeland Security, said she wasn’t prepared for the emotional lows of the past 16 days.
“It’s just frustrating having that kind of control over your life and just having it taken away from me,” said Roberts, who is expecting another shutdown in January. “I’ll be better prepared next time.”