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End of shutdown means return to normalcy for federal institutions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 17, 2013: Since President Barack Obama signed legislation reopening the federal government and raising the nation’s debt ceiling, some St. Louis-based institutions are getting back to normal.

That includes St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, which was closed during the shutdown that lasted more than two weeks. While tourists could walk around the Arch’s grounds, they couldn’t ride up to the top of the monument or visit the Old Courthouse.

But the monument – operated by the National Park Service – is now operating as normal, according to the National Park Service’s Ann Honious. She told the Beacon in an e-mail that “both the Old Courthouse and Gateway Arch reopened on our normal schedule today with all staff returning to work.”  

Scott Air Force Base, which was already feeling the impact of sequester cuts before the government shutdown, is also getting back to normal. After thousands of civilian employees were furloughed, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel eventually ordered them back to work earlier this month.

Korey Frantini, a deputy chief of public affairs at Scott Air Force Base, told the Beacon that “everybody is back to work today.”

“And we’re beginning to get the base up and running as normal,” Fratini said. “However, there may still be some things that we’re limited to do based on continuing resolution limitations or limitations that were put in place through sequestration back in March.”

In a follow-up e-mail, Scott Air Force Base spokeswoman Karen Petitt said most civilian employees came back on Oct. 7. But, she added, "there were still some in a category of being furloughed without pay, and we do expect all the civilians to receive back pay as outlined in the agreement, and would expect that to take effect in the next pay period or two."

Petitt added that contractors "will be paid according to the terms of their employer, not through this bill or measure." 

While Scott is "still operating under a sequestration, there are still limits to what we are allowed to do," said Petitt, "but for now, travel and training courses can be funded."

Because of its government contracts, Boeing, which operates a major facility in north St. Louis County, was also affected by the shutdown. In an e-mail to the Beacon today, Boeing spokeswoman Meghan McCormick said, “We had a very small number of furloughs as a result of the shutdown, but they would be mitigated.”

“Boeing is pleased that the government shutdown has come to an end and we welcome back our customers and partners,” McCormick said. “We will work closely with them to resume normal operations where needed and to get programs moving forward again following any disruption caused by the shutdown.”

The end of the shutdown also meant an end to furloughs for thousands of federal workers in the St. Louis area. The Office of Budget and Management said last night that furloughed federal workers should expect to return to work in the morning.

Steve Hollis -- the president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 3354 – told the Beacon yesterday that while it was good employees were returning to work and getting back pay, the legislation Obama signed likely sets up another fight in a few months.

“Now what we’re facing is another battle over the budget and another shutdown come Jan. 15,” Hollis said. “The budget that the Senate is passing includes sequestration. … Sequestration is a cut across the board of essential services. And it’s not a true budget. And our people may be facing furloughs once a month or once every two weeks as soon as we go back to work.

“It’s horrible,” he added. “Because it cuts services to the people and federal workers have already been cut.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.