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Federal Workers Head Back To Jobs As Government Reopens

NPR | Oct. 17, 2013 7:49 a.m.

Contributed By:

Scott Neuman

A furloughed federal worker protests outside the U.S. Capitol last week, demanding an end to the shutdown.

A furloughed federal worker protests outside the U.S. Capitol last week, demanding an end to the shutdown.

Win McNamee, Getty Images

It’s back to work for the hundreds of thousands federal workers on furlough for two weeks after Congress approved a late-night deal to fund the government and stave off default.

“Now that the bill has passed the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, the President plans to sign it tonight and employees should expect to return to work in the morning,” Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement late Wednesday. She told employees to check the Office of Personnel Management’s website for updates.

And a standard notice issue Oct. 1 at the beginning of the shutdown advised furloughed employees that once funding was restored “you will be expected to return to work on your next regular duty day.”

But the House didn’t pass the continuing resolution until after 10 p.m. ET Wednesday. The short notice means that getting back to work might not be a seamless process for many federal employees.

Colleen Kelley, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, the largest federal employee union, tells The Wall Street Journal that many workers who’ve taken their children out of day care in the past few weeks will need to arrange that again before they can return to work. She said agencies vary in their methods for recalling workers.

“Some set up a 1-800 hotline for workers to call during the shutdown to check on the status of their employment. Others use the phone tree method of calling individual workers. Tens of thousands of federal workers do not have personal computers and would not be able to check OPM’s website, Ms. Kelley said.”

And as NPR’s Brian Naylor reports on Morning Edition you shouldn’t expect the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency or most other federal offices to be taking calls just yet – it could be some time, he says, before most agencies get up to speed again.

Even government-funded research projects are going to need time to ramp up again.

University of Alabama geologist Samantha Hansen has been conducting a research project in Antarctica that in one way is like most everything else funded by the federal government. After 16 days down, it’s going to take some time to restart:

“It’s not just like flipping a switch and getting the system running theres a lot of cogs in the machine,” she says.

Naylor says that while Hansen’s work is a bit more exotic than most of what the government does on a daily basis, her story isn’t that much different from what a typical government staffer now faces: how to get the wheels turning again.

“Everyone works on their phone all the time your iPhone is constantly connected,” Jessica Clement, with the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, tells NPR. “If you’re a furloughed employee you have to leave those at the door.”

So workers might not get the word immediately.

Lee Stone, a researcher at NASA’s Ames Research Center, says “this is almost amusingly silly because NASA is shut down and so its website is shut down and its email is shut down.”

As CNN notes in the past couple of weeks, there have been “hiccups” when federal workers were recalled.

But the good news for workers is that Congress made sure they will get paid for the 16 days they were out.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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