Congressional deal to end shutdown is met with cautious optimism from federal workers

They rushed back from out-of-town trips. They phoned relatives who were helping them pay bills, to thank them. And they started making mental to-do lists about work left on their desks 16 days ago.

After nearly two weeks of what some federal employees described as an “unwanted vacation,” the congressional deal to raise the debt limit and reopen the government was met with a cautious optimism by a beaten-down workforce in Washington. The furloughed posted messages on social media that ranged from, “Thank God, it’s over,” to “Why in the world am I still working for the federal government?”

From museum employees to those who work at the Peace Corps, the end of the shutdown had federal workers checking Web sites and watching news reports, waiting to see whether they would be back to work this week.

“It was great spending time with my 6-month-old daughter, but the whole thing is just ridiculous,” said Jodi Hammer, who manages the career center of the Peace Corps in downtown Washington. “I wanted to work. I’m glad we are most likely getting back pay. But in the end, we don’t lose. But the whole country does.”

Under the agreement, the government will be funded through Jan. 15, a fact that only added to the frustration of many federal workers. It was like taking back a partner who had cheated and hoping, skeptically, for the best.

As the shutdown continues, young federal workers put their spare time to good use by volunteering at DC Central Kitchen. But with seemingly stable government jobs no longer a sure thing, these young feds voice their frustrations to The Fold’s Henry Kerali. (The Washington Post)

Sitting at home in Alexandria, Grant Czubinski, a 28-year-old contractor for the National Museum of the American Indian, said he doesn’t plan on getting too excited until he sees his first paycheck.

“I was fortunate enough to have my girlfriend’s parents in town the first week, so we had my mind kind of off of it. And they were taking us out to eat and things like that.”

After the parents left and their financing dried up, it was “basically living like you’re a freshman in college again.”

“It’s not the end of the world, but at the same time, idle hands are the devil’s plaything,” he said. “You just get to a point where [you think,] ‘What am I going to do?’ ”

Kody Kinsley, 28, who works for the Treasury, happened to have been on a planned vacation for two weddings — one in California and the other in Florida — during the time he was furloughed.

Sounds like great timing.

“No. It was really stressful because it hit my cash flow at the worst moment,” said Kinsley, who received only half his pay in his paycheck Monday. He had to cancel hotel rooms, sleep on friends’ sofas and watch how much he spent on food.

His vacation officially ends Oct. 21, so he won’t be rushing back to work.

“I would, but I can’t afford to change my ticket,” he said.

Well aware of federal workers’ low self-esteem after a series of cuts, pay freezes and now the shutdown, GovLoop, a Web site known as Facebook for feds, launched a “Back from the shutdown. Ready to throwdown” print-out sticker campaign Wednesday.

“I know people are relieved to go back to work. But it’s a really weird feeling to have a forced vacation, to sit on the bench,” said Steve Ressler, 32, who runs GovLoop. “We wanted to show solidarity.”

William Marshall took a post at the General Services Administration a few years ago as a senior adviser in the leasing department because it seemed like a more stable job than the private-sector position he held for years.

But the government’s 16-day shutdown has shattered any belief he had in that notion.

With the news of a deal, the 54-year-old civil servant, who lives in Northeast Washington, is counting his blessings again.

“This really tested the faith of the American government,” said Marshall, who wasn’t quite ready to believe that he was about to go back to work. “I really hope that members of Congress have a greater appreciation of the federal worker and that we have families and pay bills like everyone else.”

Clinton Yates and Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux is a National staff writer who covers veterans, veterans' affairs and the culture of government. She's an award-winning former foreign correspondent who covered Africa and India for nearly a decade. She also covered immigration, crime and education for the Metro staff.
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