Returning U.S. government workers greeted with doughnuts, coffee, anxiety

Reuters

* Pep talks, encouragement for federal employees

* Worries about another possible shutdown threat next year

* National Zoo's Panda Cam returns, zoo to open Friday

By Deborah Zabarenko and Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Furloughed U.S. governmentworkers returned to their jobs on Thursday, greeted withdoughnuts, coffee, pep talks from Obama administration bossesand anxiety over whether they will face another shutdown threatin the new year.

"I'm glad this whole thing is behind us and to be able to goback to work," Mike McParland, who works for USAID's Food forPeace program, said en route to his office. "I just hope theyfind a way forward before January so we don't have to go throughthis again."

Washington's renewed morning rush hour, the first after 16days of government shutdown, came less than 12 hours afterPresident Barack Obama signed a last-minute bill to fund thegovernment through Jan. 15 and extend its borrowing authoritythrough Feb. 7.

Vice President Joe Biden brought trans fat-free muffins to federal workers entering the Environmental Protection Agency,where about 94 percent of staff had been furloughed.

"These guys not only took a hit and ... (had) the anxiety ofknowing whether they'd get back or paid," Biden said. "But nowthey're back, and they've got all that work piled up so they'vegot a lot to do so I'm not going to hold them up very long."

At the Agriculture Department, Secretary Tom Vilsack offeredcoffee and encouragement to returning employees, directing themto free doughnuts available inside the agency's massive buildingon Independence Avenue.

Most of the Pentagon's civilian employees returned to work,and heard from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a statement.

"To those returning from furlough: know that the work youperform is incredibly valued by your military teammates and byme," Hagel wrote. "I appreciate your professionalism and yourpatience during this difficult period of time."

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew offered workers a similarmessage: "I know how difficult this was for staff who workedtirelessly during the shutdown ... (and) for everyone who wantedto be here to continue performing their duties with exceptionalskill and dedication."

ANOTHER SHUTDOWN IN JANUARY? 'I HOPE NOT'

The U.S. World War II Memorial on Washington's central Mall,a flashpoint for anger over the forced closure of nationalmonuments and parks, opened early on Thursday, as a parkemployee in hip boots waded into the fountain to clean it.

Robert Marimon, a 91-year-old retired electrical engineerand World War Two veteran from Avon Lake, Ohio, said this washis planned first stop on a U.S. capital visit, and he wouldhave been disappointed if it had been closed.

"If it was closed, I was planning to try to get over thebarriers one way or another," he said.

"I think it was pretty bad," Marimon said of the shutdown."Personally, I think both parties, everybody, should have beenable to get together way before this."

Asked about a possible repetition in January, he replied,"It sounds like it, but I hope not."

The U.S. Senate's 200-year-old Ohio Clock started tickingagain on Thursday, wound for the first time since the shutdownbegan on Oct. 1. It froze in place at 12:14 p.m. on Oct. 9because the specialists who normally wind it were among the800,000 federal employees sent home.

Most of the Smithsonian Institution's museums and otherfacilities re-opened on Thursday, including the National Zoo'spopular online Panda Cam, though traffic was so heavy that ittook some doing to see it at. The zoo itself re-opens on Friday.

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