NASA workers return to Johnson Space Center after 16-day shutdown

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by Larry Seward / KHOU 11 News & AP

Associated Press

Posted on October 17, 2013 at 7:03 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 17 at 4:32 PM

HOUSTON — Workers at Johnson Space Center began returning to work following Wednesday night’s vote to reopen the government through mid-January.

“I feel great...,” Bridgett Broussard-Guidry, NASA employee, said. “We are back at work... this is where we wanted to be.”

Some NASA employees could not contain their smiles.

“My husband’s dream... his whole life has been to build a rocket. That’s what he’s wanted to do since he was an infant,” Beth Leblanc, NASA employee, said of her husband who also works for NASA as a contractor. “I grew up in this community. So, for me... this... this is all I know.”

When bickering lawmakers shutdown government spending, they smashed budgets in the Leblanc home, too.

“We had stopped eating out. We had been starting to look at odd jobs... just anything you can think of,” Leblanc said. “We still have to work with our creditors because we still don’t know when we’re going to receive any back pay.”

Contractors may get none.

“It’s very frustrating,” Dennis Lawler, another NASA employee, said.

Lawler’s wife, a software specialist, is among them.

“I’m still very hesitant. I’m still very uncertain about what’s going to happen,” he said.

Leblanc vows to save more than ever. “It will be a very lean Christmas,” she said.

It will also be a very busy time for union members.

“We still have work to do. We still have to contact our representatives, let them know, first of all to thank them for ending the shutdown. But, to work out a deal so we won’t have to experience this again in January,” Broussard-Guidry said.

Other workers across the nation started returning to their federal jobs on Thursday as well.

The Office of Personnel Management announced Wednesday night that workers should return to work on their next regularly scheduled work day, noting that is Thursday for most workers. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of workers have been furloughed since the shutdown began Oct. 1.

The office encouraged agencies to be flexible for a smooth transition by allowing telework and excused absences in some cases.

“We’re back from the (hashtag)shutdown!” the Smithsonian Institution declared on Twitter, announcing that its 19 museums would reopen Thursday. The National Zoo was set to reopen Friday.

The returning workers’ presence will be felt on the roads and rails in the Washington region, where commutes have been less crowded over the past two weeks. The regional transit agency, Metro, reported a 20 percent drop in ridership when the shutdown began and has said it lost a few hundred thousand dollars each day.

Workers began filing in well before dawn at the U.S. Geological Survey’s campus in Reston, about 20 miles outside of Washington.

“Feels kind of strange,” said Kathleen Faison of Ashburn, a training specialist at the survey, as she headed into the office. “I kind of wish they would have kept us out until Monday.”

Faison said during the first few days of the shutdown, she followed the news closely, anticipating that she could be called back any day. But by week two, “I just kind of fell into my own personal routine,” she said.

She said she considered teleworking for the first day or two but eventually decided “I might as well just get back into the swing of things.”

Hydrologist Julian Wayland, carrying his lunch in a paper bag, said he wasn’t sure how much work had piled up during the shutdown. His primary job is determining the age of groundwater samples.

“We’re definitely behind,” he said. “I’m glad it’s over.”

The impasse had shuttered national parks and monuments, and mostly closed down NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department. Critical functions of government went on as usual, but the closure and potential default weighed on the economy and spooked the financial markets.

Standard & Poor’s estimated the shutdown has taken $24 billion out of the economy.

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