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Federal workers back to work as government reopens

This story was updated at 12:45 p.m.

After 16 days of government shutdown, the federal government officially reopened its doors Thursday morning and summoned back the hundreds of thousands of workers who had been furloughed.

"Welcome back," President Obama told workers when he addressed the nation Thursday. "What you do is important and don't let anybody else tell you differently."

The change will be most notable in Washington, D.C., where the federal government has its largest presence. Vacations for out-of-towners will get back on track as the Capitol Visitor Center, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Smithsonian institutions are reopen to the public, and there is no longer limited access to the memorials on the National Mall. The National Zoo will not reopen until Friday, but the popular panda cam comes back online Thursday.

Across the country, national parks that had been shuttered will start allowing visitors. The Obama administration allowed some states to use their own money to reopen the parks, which are vital for the economies of the towns that surround them.

Members of the administration - fresh off an undisputed victory in the negotiations - welcomed back returning employees. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough manned the northwest gate of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and Vice President Biden headed to the Environmental Protection Agency with some muffins in hand to say hello to the returning 168,000 people he said were furloughed.


But there's an air of pessimism even though the crisis has ended for the moment. Asked if there was any guarantee this wouldn't happen again in just a few months, Biden said, "there's no guarantee of anything."

That was certainly the attitude among federal employees who spoke to CBS News Thursday as they returned to work. "Nothing's solved. They just put it off," said federal worker Alice Welch. "We'll start all over again in January. So now we'll just save up our paychecks to be without money for stuff. Had to put off bills. Mortgages had to be delayed. I think it's ridiculous. As far as I'm concerned Congress should not get paid." Kim Cash from Woodbridge, Va., said she didn't think the conflict was over either. "It's just delayed till January. So for now I'm glad to be back at work doing what we're supposed to be doing, and hopefully we won't go through this again."

Cheryl Delamater from New Carrollton, Md., said members of Congress "need to give up their perks. They need to know what it's like to suffer without a paycheck...[to] not be able to sleep at night wondering how you're going to pay your mortgage."

"The American people I hope will come out on Election Day and tell them what they think," she said.

As EPA employees walked in, they were handed a one-page memo from EPA administrator Gina McCarthy welcoming them back and promising to ensure a smooth transition. Other notes included a directive that all government travel is cancelled until Oct. 20 and instructions to remove any "out of office" messages.

Roughly 800,000 workers were sent home on Oct. 1, but several hundred thousand were recalled midway through the shutdown, particularly Defense Department employees.

"This manufactured crisis was an unwelcome and unnecessary distraction from our critical work of keeping the country safe," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in a memo to all Defense Department personnel Thursday. "I know that each of your lives has been disrupted and affected in different ways. I regret the impact that this shutdown had on so many of our civilian personnel, particularly those who I was previously unable to recall from emergency furlough."

There was one bright spot for employees returning to work: part of the legislation passed by Congress Wednesday night to end the shutdown will be paid retroactively.