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Workers happily return to the grind

Published Oct. 18, 2013

WASHINGTON — The federal government roused from slumber Thursday morning, a colossal bureaucracy fitfully trying to function again as hundreds of thousands of workers happily returned to offices and cubicles.

At an alphabet soup of agencies — the FAA, the FCC, the FBI; at the NLRB, the NTSB, the NOAA — computer screens glowed at last.

"Today's going to be all about looking at schedules and prioritizing," said Brenda Mulac, delighted to be working again in NASA's office of strategic planning.

Never have so many been so happy to be back at the mill.

There was Adam Schwartz, on the job at 6 a.m., scooping dirt and leaves out of the fountain at the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, where monuments, closed and barricaded for 16 days, stood as symbols of Washington's paralysis.

"The key is to make it crystal clear again," he said. "For the veterans."

There was Mei Xiang, the giant panda, and her yet-to-be-named cub, back on the National Zoo's popular online Panda Cam for the world to see — a fatter, more robust cub than it was a few weeks ago, before the cam went dark.

The shutdown had a far-reaching impact across the nation, with 450,000 federal employees furloughed and more than $20 billion in direct government spending and related economic activity siphoned from the economy.

Vice President Joe Biden offered snacks Thursday morning as he greeted workers at the Environmental Protection Agency.

"I brought muffins," he announced.

At the Department of Agriculture headquarters, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also welcomed employees. "Good morning, folks," he said as workers hustled out of Metro stations. "Thank you for your service."

He noted: "They're running up the steps. That's a good sign."

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