Federal Center workers return to work as shutdown ends

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DENVER -- Before President Obama officially put an end to the government shutdown with his signature, federal workers were already told to report to work on Thursday morning.

That's exactly what happened at the Denver Federal Center, home to the second-largest concentration of federal employees outside of Washington D.C.

The gates at the Federal Center were up before the sun was on Thursday morning, and many of the more than 6,000 furloughed federal employees were anxious to get back to work.

"We like our work," said MJ Umari, who works for the USGS. "So we're excited to get back and do it."

"Ahh. It's wonderful," said Debra Higly-Feldman, another USGS employee. "Last furlough we were able to sneak into work, but with the security here we had to take work home so we could keep up to date on all of our research."

For Higley-Feldman and others, the work just kept piling up while the bickering in Washington kept them away. Employees now know the new funding bill approved by Congress will pay them for the time they lost, but nothing will erase the 16 days of stress.

"It's just such a waste of energy," Higley-Feldman said. "And, being a petroleum geologist, I know energy."

"It's just been discouraging, I guess, is the best word I can say," Umari said.

Businesses near the Federal Center are also very happy to see employees back.

"I've read like three books in two weeks because all of our customers were gone," said Kayla Pratt, a supervisor at Wahoo's Fish Tacos.

Lunch was especially slow at Wahoo's during the shutdown. Federal employees make up at least half of the regular customers, meaning Thursday was the first day in a few weeks that many staff weren't anticipating their hours being cut.

"All of our regulars are going to be back, which is awesome," Pratt said.

But how long will the feeling last? Some employees fear that the deal in Washington simply sets up another shutdown, but not everyone agrees.

"This one seems to be severe enough that I feel that both sides are going to try not to get to the same point," Umari said.