After hearing late Wednesday that Congress had agreed to reopen the federal government, Gary Driesen logged onto Savannah River Site’s web page to see if the nuclear reservation had authorized his return to work.
Driesen and his 1,400 furloughed coworkers at Savannah River Remediation won’t return to work until Monday, according to a U.S. Energy Department statement issued Thursday. That will be 16 days off the job.
“It’s encouraging,” Driesen, 64, of Martinez, said of the legislation President Obama signed to end the partial shutdown. “But how it’s going to impact me and all the other employees at SRS is not real clear yet.”
What remains unclear, some remediation employees said, is if they will be compensated for the thousands of dollars of emergency savings and weeks of paid vacation they used to stay afloat while without a steady income.
According to the 2014 Continuing Appropriations Act, the Treasury had its borrowing power extended through Feb. 7, allowing the government to reimburse all “federal workers” for furloughed paychecks.
However, Driesen, whose use of paid leave during the shutdown hampers his plans to travel abroad next year and possibly take a trip with his grandson to visit his elderly parents in Wisconsin, said he does not know if the bill includes contractors.
James Giusti, the director of the Department of Energy’s Savannah River Office of External Affairs, said Thursday that as far as he knows, contracted employees, such as the ones at SRR, will not be compensated for furloughed paychecks or used vacation time.
Chris Johnson, an engineer at Savannah River Remediation, said he doesn’t expect to be reimbursed for the savings he exhausted to pay for food and living expenses.
“But at least the shutdown is officially over,” said Johnson, 62, of North Augusta.
Driesen and Johnson said they expect to encounter some backlog of work when they return to SRS to complete design calculations and improve and optimize engineering programs.
“We are going to have to take a deliberate approach to ramping up operations again to make sure everyone is focused on procedure and safety,” Johnson said. “Things will be kind of slow going for a while.”
Johnson said he was confident Congress would pass legislation ahead of the debt-limit deadline. However, he added his optimism for long-term government stability is not great.
“Until they straighten out the budget, government functions are going to be a year-to-year, month-to-month operation,” he said.