Just over two weeks ago, Julie Speegle was sent home after only a half day of work and she had no idea when she would be allowed to go back to doing what she loves.
During the 16 days of the federal government shutdown, the Alaska Region public affairs officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spent her days watching CSPAN, wishing she could check her work emails without breaking the law and worrying.
“I really was worried about the economic impacts of the shutdown and not raising the debt ceiling,” Speegle said.
Many of those worries were eased Wednesday night when Congress rapidly approved a bill to reopen government while budget negotiations continue through the end of the year.
“I was very excited,” Speegle said of realizing she was going back to work Thursday. “I packed up my briefcase right away, and was up bright and early going through my work emails.
“My job as a federal employee is very important to me, and I care about the people I serve.”
Most of her colleagues at the federal building shared Speegle’s excitement to be back, she said.
Still, stopping everything and being away from work for 16 days had an impact on the work being done, Speegle said.
“It’s going to be a little while before things are back to normal,” said Speegle, who still had nearly 400 emails to go through during the lunchtime interview for this story. “There’s definitely a lot of projects that suffered because of the shutdown.”
For Wendy Zirngibl, a public affairs specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, the break was a chance to reorganize and clean-up around her house. She had little worry that things would work themselves out.
“I was pretty confident we would be back at work today,” Zirngibl said, adding that she had faith Congress would reach a “reasonable” decision before the country hit the debt ceiling.
Both offices are dealing with prioritizing tasks as several deadlines passed during the shutdown, and others loom with teams well behind on the work. There is also a bit of uncertainty over when and how employees will be paid for their time off. Either way, it will be another two weeks before Forest Service and NOAA employees get paid because their regular pay days were Monday of this week.
Across the street from the federal building it was readily apparent that the area’s largest workforce was back on the job.
Seong’s Sushi Bar and Chinese had taken a severe hit during the first week of the shutdown, but things were back to normal Thursday.
“We’re seeing a lot of the old faces again,” owner Seong Kim said. “But now we’re trying to make up the money lost.”
Kim said he was forced to dig into savings during the first week of the shutdown because food still had to be purchased even though less of it was being sold. His restaurant doesn’t keep much of the food more than a day to ensure its freshness, Kim said.
“One slow day won’t hurt all that bad, but one week really hurts,” he said.
He added that business had picked up after a Juneau Empire story about the shutdown’s effect on his business ran after that first week.
Now, with the government shutdown over, employees were back to working full shifts, the aroma of fresh food being cooked filled the restaurant and the chef wasn’t taking any breaks during the lunch hour.
“It’s a lot, lot better,” Kim said.