Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 1:55 am / Updated at 1:55 am
Some furloughed workers recalled to duty

WASHINGTON (AP) - In the space of a week, Chris Vaccaro was furloughed from his government post, called back to work and then furloughed again in head-spinning events that left him feeling like a human yo-yo.

"It's been odd having to switch your mindset off and on," said Vaccaro, communications director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Vaccaro is among thousands of federal employees whose status changed from nonessential to essential at some point over the course of the partial government shutdown, now in its third week. Agencies from the Federal Aviation Administration to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recalled some of their furloughed workers to deal with safety issues and other emergencies.

For Vaccaro, it happened Oct. 3, as government agencies were preparing for the threat posed by Tropical Storm Karen along the Gulf Coast. But once the storm dissipated two days later, he was back on his couch at home. About 200 furloughed Federal Emergency Management Agency workers were similarly called back to deal with the storm, but at least half were furloughed again when it didn't live up to expectations.

The White House's Office of Management and Budget didn't specify the number of federal workers who have been recalled. When the partial shutdown began, about 800,000 of 2.1 million workers were furloughed.

"As the shutdown drags on, agencies will be forced to adapt to changing circumstances," the OMB said in a statement Tuesday. The agency said unexpected events will require agencies to bring back workers, especially for situations affecting the safety of life or property. But in other cases, agencies will have to furlough additional employees if the shutdown continues and funding runs out.

"Agencies are continually monitoring ongoing activities to ensure they are complying with applicable legal requirements while also doing their job," the OMB said.

In the largest recall of furloughed workers, about 350,000 civilian defense employees were told to report back to work after government attorneys concluded they could eliminate furloughs for "employees whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members."

Of the remaining 450,000 furloughed federal employees, some have trickled back for various reasons.

The CIA initially furloughed a "significant" but undisclosed number of workers when the shutdown began. But a week later, CIA Director John Brennan said reduced staffing levels posed a national security threat and he began bringing back employees deemed necessary for intelligence collection and analysis.

At the CDC, most of the agency's scientists who track food safety outbreaks have been furloughed. But many were brought back Oct. 8 in light of an outbreak of salmonella in raw chicken that has sickened nearly 300 people in at least 17 states.

The FAA similarly recalled about 800 furloughed employees during the second week of the shutdown, including 600 inspectors and other safety employees who check to see whether airlines are properly maintaining their planes.

Those employees who have been deemed essential by their agencies are still working without pay. While the House has voted to reimburse furloughed government workers and the Senate is expected to follow, they will not be paid until the shutdown ends.

The Housing and Urban Development Department could recall up to 698 furloughed employees for temporary work on an as-needed basis, HUD spokesman Jerry Brown said Tuesday. The largest number of employees recalled temporarily for a single day so far in the shutdown was about 400, Brown said.

The recalled employees work between two and eight hours on tasks such as making payments on housing vouchers, processing guarantees for FHA mortgages and managing properties that are deemed vital services. Overall, HUD has just 307 full-time employees it considers essential out of a workforce of 8,709.

At NASA, a few hundred furloughed workers were recalled to prepare for the Nov. 18 launch of a robotic probe to Mars. But the space agency still has 97 percent of its workers furloughed.

Furloughed employees at the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and several other national parks returned to work over the weekend because some states offered to pay the National Park Service to reopen the sites. Arizona agreed to pay the Park Service $651,000 to keep the Grand Canyon open for seven days. Utah's five national parks - Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef - reopened Friday afternoon and Saturday morning after the state sent $1.67 million to the U.S. government to pick up the tab for 10 days in hopes of saving its lucrative fall tourist season.

In New Mexico, Gov. Susana Martinez's administration stopped the furlough of several dozen civilian workers for the National Guard on Monday by having the state cover their salaries this week while a federal government shutdown continues. The 55 federally funded state employees maintain Guard facilities across the state and include the staff responsible for computer security and construction management.

Some members of Congress have begun bringing back staff to handle legislative matters. The office of Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has recalled furloughed workers to handle a backload of work that has been piling up, spokeswoman Kate Cyrul Frischmann said Tuesday.

"Our office is re-evaluating staffing needs in Washington and Iowa and bringing staff back as needed to address that workload," she said.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., recalled all of his furloughed staff members last week after the House unanimously passed legislation promising all federal workers would receive back pay when the shutdown ends. The Senate is expected to pass a similar measure.

Sanford said it's time staff gets to work since they eventually will be paid.

Vaccaro, the NOAA communications director, said he's still on edge while sitting at home, knowing he might be called back to work any time another natural disaster strikes.

"Even though I'm on furlough status, I'm staying put in D.C.," Vaccaro said, "because I want to remain in position where I can spring into action and help the agency at a moment's notice."

- - -

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein, Josh Lederman and Andrew Miga in Washington and Barry Massey in Santa Fe, N.M., contributed to this report.

Read more related stories
Crack ring's leaders join others in prison as part of Operation Purple Haze convictions
Saturday forecast opens window for gardening; Easter egg hunts look iffy on Sunday
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
A voice of experience: Ex-gang member has helped lead fight against Omaha violence
Maha Music Festival announces lineup; might be its best yet
Sen. Ernie Chambers tries to undo Nikko Jenkins' convictions
Bats anonymous working for Nebraska
Bluejays guard Zierden avoids knee surgery
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
Developer wants to transform old Millard Lumber site with housing, commercial buildings
Dip in Nebraska economic index doesn’t reflect outlook
Post Holdings buys Michael Foods
Business digest: Target expands subscription service, adds discount
Annie, drop some bereavement knowledge on these yuppies
Movie review: 'Transcendence' ends up quite ordinary
Dining review: If you're craving sushi, head to Benson's Taita
Rural Mainstreet Index finds slow growth
Earnings roundup: Chipotle says it won’t scare off customers with higher prices
BNSF to add trains to handle fertilizer
Walmart touts lower money transfer fees
In brief: Judge doesn’t make GM take cars off road
Nebraska's best burger determined by folks who know about this kind of thing
Rockbrook Village restaurant Taste has a new chef
New Benson BBQ restaurant opens next week
Over Easy will host a west Omaha block party
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
  Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
By Nancy Gaarder / World-Herald staff writer • Apr 17 at h:nn am/pm
Nancy's Almanac, April 16, 2014: Yes, it's been drier and colder than normal Nancy's Almanac, April 16, 2014: Yes, it's been drier and colder than normal
By Nancy Gaarder / World-Herald staff reporter • Apr 16 at h:nn am/pm
Jump to a blog:
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »