Federal government workers return to work today after an 11th-hour deal was reached Wednesday to end the shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
Keep checking here for the latest updates on the reopening the government, and the overall impact of the shutdown.
The shutdown ended late Wednesday night, capping off 16 days of drama in Washington as well as uncertainty for workers and financial markets alike. The bill, signed by President Obama after midnight, means that hundreds of thousands of federal workers are back on the job. Head here for the latest story.
The World War II Memorial, recently the site of protest, was quiet Thursday morning, save for a handful of news cameras, an occasional jogger, and Adam Schwartz, who waded through the pool of water at the heart of the memorial, sweeping the bottom clean with a broom.
Schwartz, a contractor, had not been able to clean the pool during the shutdown. He began work at 6 a.m. Thursday, scooping leaves and dirt from the water.
“The key is to make it crystal clear again,” said Schwartz, “for the veterans.”
Nearby, workers streamed in from the Smithsonian Metro station exit off the Mall, headphones in and bags on. Many had been working through the shutdown, but some were returning to work, unsure what the day would bring.
— Greg Seaby (@GregSeaby) October 17, 2013
Attorney General Eric Holder welcomed Justice Department employees back to work with a letter Thursday.
“Those of you who were not able to work during the shutdown were greatly missed, and the efforts of those who were at work during this difficult period were truly appreciated,” Holder wrote.
He said the main priority was quickly getting all of the department’s nearly 115,000 employees back to work. But he also noted the anxieties stemming from missed paychecks, writing that employees would hear updates about “the consequences of the shutdown” in the coming days.
Ending the partial government shutdown would affect federal workers in many ways, apart from returning to work those who have been furloughed. Following are answers to some key questions about the impact.
Q. Will federal employees get back pay for the shutdown period?
A. The debt ceiling/shutdown deal up for voting in Congress would provide back pay.
The shutdown divided employees into several main categories regarding their pay:
“Exempt” employees work in functions that were not affected by the shutdown, typically because those operations are self-funding or have multi-year budgets. Those employees, most numerously in the U.S. Postal Service, have been receiving regular pay and benefits.
“Excepted” employees were kept on the job because of the nature of their work — for example, positions related to national security or public health or safety. They have been in duty status, but unpaid —although those working at the Defense Department have been paid, under the Pay Our Military Act, which passed soon after the shutdown started Oct. 1. All excepted employees have been guaranteed all along that they would receive back pay for their unpaid working time, but that couldn’t happen until government funding is restored.
“Furloughed” employees also have been unpaid during the shutdown but they were kept off the job and there has been no guarantee they would receive back pay for that time. The retroactive pay provision is needed for them.
Among those entering the gates at the National Institutes of Health’s Bethesda campus Thursday morning was Thomas Clay, 56, who had only arrived in the Washington area a few weeks ago to take part in a clinical trial.
He remembered the feeling of dread that swept over him when he heard the government was shutting down. He was one of the fortunate ones: he was already enrolled in a trial focused on treating his lymphoma, so he could continue his twice weekly visits.
But he saw the impact of the shutdown firsthand: fewer staff members, a closed cafeteria and fewer shuttles to help patients get around the vast campus. “They work so hard, and you could see the strain and stress,” he said. “Many of the staff members said they would be happy to work for free but that was against the law.”
Clay, who is from a small town in Tennessee, will complete his treatments in December so he won’t have to worry should there be another shutdown come January. But he does worry about the doctors and nurses who have taken care of him.
“I just hope they don’t have to go through this again,” he said.
The scene at Medical Center on the Red Line home of NIH pic.twitter.com/osWoiOgG6P
— lori aratani (@loriara) October 17, 2013
James Mitchell turned the news off around midnight Thursday morning, ready to report for duty at 6:30 a.m. “I’m just happy to be back at work,” he said, loading barricades onto a National Park Service truck in front of the WWII Memorial.
The arborist for the Park Service said, “we’re usually working with trees,” but today he was tasked with removing the black fencing that had marked the shutdown. “We’re going to put in a full day and do the best we can.”
Mitchell said he hasn’t appreciated the criticism directed at his agency by some lawmakers. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had insisted earlier this week the head of the National Park Service should resign.
Meanwhile, a woman in a black jogging suit walked by Mitchell and waved. “Welcome back,” she said as Mitchell continued to load the barricades with another worker.
While NIH employees know to return to their desks — thanks to the media, word of mouth and the Office of Personnel Management’s Web site, which began posting updates, there still appeared to be a few glitches.
The fleet of shuttle buses that ferry employees around the campus and to other NIH facilities were not up and running normally early Thursday, some employees said as they rushed to find other ways to get to their offices.
The Hirshhorn reopens at 10 am. To make up for lost time, please look twice as hard. Thank you.
Since the government’s partial shutdown more than two weeks ago, it has been a roller coaster in Washington. There was impasse after impasse, heated rhetoric on both sides and talk of an economic catastrophe. On Wednesday, things finally settled down with a bipartisan deal. Here are some basic questions and answers about what’s going on:
What will the deal do?
The deal has five main parts:
●Immediately reopens the government and funds it through Jan. 15.
●Raises the debt ceiling through Feb. 7 but allows federal borrowing to continue for a few weeks longer, using special accounting measures.
●Requires additional measures, favored by Republicans, to ensure that people who receive financial help to buy medical insurance under the new health-care law are being honest about their income.
●Sets up a negotiating committee to try to come up with a longer-term budget plan so we don’t go through this again early next year. The committee is expected to issue budget recommendations by Dec. 13.
●Provides back pay to furloughed federal workers.
Read the full Q&A here.
Metro returned to using eight-car trains during Thursday morning’s commute, giving the thousands of workers heading back to the office a little more space to find a seat.
The transit agency had been using six-car trains during the shutdown due to the 20 percent drop in ridership. But with the shutdown over, it returned to using eight-car trains to handle the expected uptick in riders.
Head to Dr. Gridlock for more.