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US government agencies gear up to restart operations

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The Smithsonian Institution has said that museums in Washington and the National Zoo (pictured) will reopen on Tuesday.

Washington

US government agencies that had largely shuttered operations for five weeks during a budget stand-off said on Saturday that they were moving swiftly to resume operations and compensate employees for missed pay cheques.

The White House held a conference call with Cabinet department financial officers late on Friday to discuss the resumption of government operations, while agencies began to grapple with a backlog of management and policy issues.

The partial government shutdown - at 35 days the longest in US history - led to some 800,000 federal workers going unpaid, including 380,000 furloughed workers.

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President Donald Trump on Friday signed a measure to fund the government for three weeks as congressional negotiators try to hammer out a bill to fund the federal government till Sept 30. Mr Trump had demanded US$5.7 billion in funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border, but Democratic legislators refused to include the money.

The White House Office of Management and Budget's acting chief, Russell Vought, told agencies in a memo to reopen "in a prompt and orderly manner".

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Scott Gottlieb wrote on Saturday on Twitter that the agency would send back pay to staffers no later than Thursday.

Mr Gottlieb told employees that the FDA would hold an all-hands meeting on Tuesday. "There will be impacts from this prolonged lapse in funding," he wrote. "But this agency has always faced challenge."

The Coast Guard told personnel that it was "working through the weekend to process your pay as quickly as possible" and said that back pay should be received by Thursday.

Federal workers are owed about US$6 billion in back pay, according to a study released last week.

It will take agencies days to dig out from weeks of unread e-mails and deal with other logistical issues such as expired e-mail passwords or ID badges, agency officials said. Furloughed workers were told not to read e-mails or answer phone calls while off duty.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) asked employees for "patience and attention, especially during the first 48 hours", noting that the vast majority of employees' laptops and smartphones have been inactive for more than a month and have not had "critical, regularly scheduled maintenance".

During the shutdown, some government agencies did not complete contracts for grants; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stopped reviewing and making public new car safety recalls; and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stopped certifying some new aircraft and routes.

The Smithsonian Institution said that museums in Washington and the National Zoo will reopen on Tuesday. In Philadelphia, Independence National Historical Park - which includes a centre that houses the Liberty Bell, a symbol of American independence - reopened on Saturday. Other sites reopened on Sunday, including Ford's Theatre in Washington.

Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) chairman Jay Clayton said on Saturday in a statement that the agency is "continuing to assess how to most effectively transition to normal operations". He said that some SEC units, including those devoted to corporate finance, trading and markets, and investment management and the Office of Compliance Inspections and Examinations, "will be publishing statements in the coming days regarding their transition plans". The SEC had been unable to approve initial public offerings (IPOs) during the shutdown, and some analysts had suggested that the issue could delay IPOs in 2019.

It will take the Federal Register, which publishes government regulatory actions, weeks to catch up with the backlog of documents, which will delay the start of public comments on some proposals.

The shutdown is also likely to delay the rollout of Mr Trump's 2020 budget proposal and congressional hearings on the budget.

It is not clear when Mr Trump will deliver his State of the Union Address, but one administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Saturday that it is not likely to be until February. REUTERS