Thousands of federal workers trickled into their cubicles, reopened their labs, unlocked park gates and otherwise got back to business Thursday after President Barack Obama signed a bill ending the first government shutdown in 17 years.
By 10 a.m. Thursday, workers at Chickasaw National Recreation Area just south of Sulphur were turning water back on at campgrounds, clearing downed trees and hoped to have all of the 15-square-mile park back open by the weekend, said Dan Winings, the park's public information officer.
The shutdown idled more than two dozen park workers, angered visitors and disrupted the local economy which relies heavily on the recreation area that draws about 3,500 people each day in October.
Wining said visitors already were flocking back to the park early Monday.
At Federal Aviation Administration offices in Oklahoma City, more than 3,000 employees were returning to work after a furlough of longer than two weeks.
The Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center employs about 6,600 Oklahomans and includes a training academy that instructs air traffic controllers, technicians and inspectors from across the country.
The academy and about half the center were shut down during the past two weeks, union officials said.
FAA spokeswoman Kristie Greco said Thursday employees were returning and beginning the process of catching up.
In addition to training and employing aviation inspectors and technicians, the center also processes hundreds of thousands of pilot certifications every year and manages a civil aviation registry.
Union representative Robert Abbott said the backlog created by the past two weeks could cause continuing problems.
“It's going to have a lasting effect that could continue for months and months,” he said.
Despite the backlog, the reopening ends much of the uncertainty for the center's furloughed employees, at least temporarily.
Conley Wicker, president of a union that represents the academy workers, said employees this week received their first paychecks since the shutdown began, and the checks were about half the normal amount.
But with the end of the shutdown came the promise of back pay for the 800,000 furloughed federal workers across the country.
Greg Brooks, another union representative for FAA workers, said the past two weeks were no paid vacation, though.
“They were available and wanted to work, but Congress prevented them from doing so,” he said. “We're not here looking for a handout.”
Tim Hibner, an engineering technician who returned to work Thursday, agreed.
“I just want to do my job and provide a public service,” he said. “But we were sent home because of political games.”
A spokesman for the Oklahoma National Guard, which suspended weekend drills during the shutdown, said the Guard was pleased to get back to training.
“The budget uncertainties in Washington put additional stress on our citizen soldiers and airmen, our federal technicians and our state employees that were facing possible furloughs,” spokesman Col. Max Moss said. “The temporary crisis was also hard on our military families ... forced to make do on less money. A few hundred bucks make a big difference if you're a young enlisted soldier or airmen with a spouse and kids. We hope we don't have to go through this again.”
The vast majority of federal civilian workers furloughed from the state's military installations, such as Tinker Air Force Base, went back to work last week after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered their return.
The bill signed early Thursday by Obama ensures the government will keep operating at least through the beginning of next year.
Under the bipartisan agreement, furloughed workers will be paid for time missed during the 16-day partial shutdown.
“It just takes a load off everyone's mind,” said Keith Pannell, a media relations officer at Fort Sill, who earlier this month was worried when or if he might get paid.
The deal reopening the government lasts only until Jan. 15, and lawmakers hope to reach a long-term agreement before the latest temporary fix expires.