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Federal agencies, museums regain footing after lengthy shutdown

January 28, 2019

Federal agencies and museums worked to clear a backlog of work, restock gift shops and otherwise reboot Monday after Congress extended a reprieve to the longest government shutdown in history.

The Smithsonian said its full weekday staff returned to clean up, check videos and interactive exhibits and restock cafes and stores before its museums and the National Zoo reopen on Tuesday.

Smithsonian entities had been closed since Jan. 2. They used reserve funds to stay open for the first 11 days of the shutdown.

The impasse forced the institution to postpone the opening of a suffrage exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, “Votes for Women,” from March 1 to a to-be-determined date, said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas.

Elsewhere, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb personally greeted workers returning to the Food and Drug Administration on Monday. He said his agency will work expeditiously to work through the backlog of drug applications that piled up during the shutdown.

The FDA also set up special tables at its main building to help workers with questions about benefits, pay, badges, computer issues or other post-shutdown problems.

“I know there will be additional challenges ahead as we catch up on missed work and deadlines. I’ll support you in all of these efforts as we forge ahead as ONE,” Dr. Gottlieb tweeted Monday.

The Federal Aviation Administration, meanwhile, thanked “dedicated professionals” for their service during the shutdown and said it remains focused on maintaining air safety.

“Over the coming days and weeks, the agency will assess immediate post-shutdown needs, prioritize those needs, and deploy the appropriate resources to address those needs,” the FAA said in a written statement.

Congress approved a stopgap funding bill Friday to reopen shuttered federal agencies through Feb. 15. The three-week deal ended a shutdown that began Dec. 22, after President Trump demanded funding for his border wall.

Though Mr. Trump said another shutdown could occur, the reprieve headed off public feuding that was set to unfold this week.

House Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee canceled a hearing on the shutdown scheduled for Thursday, and a set of federal workers who sued over the shutdown withdrew their request for a preliminary injunction against the administration.

On Capitol Hill, some lawmakers shifted their focus toward averting future shutdowns or healing the wounds caused by the recent impasse.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin Democrat, is pushing legislation that would pay interest to affected workers on top of their back pay.

“It’s only fair that if the federal government can charge you interest for being late on your taxes, then it should be paying interest on late paychecks,” she said. “I am calling on Senate Majority Leader McConnell to bring this bill to the floor for a vote.”

The amount of interest would be equal to the amount federal agencies incur when they pay vendors late. Currently, it is 3.625 percent.

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