Furloughed fed employees return to work; uncertainty about future, questions about back pay remain

Hundreds of thousands of furloughed federal workers will be back on the job Monday after last week's deal to temporarily reopen the government. But President Donald Trump's truce with Democrats on Capitol Hill could be short-lived and the clock is ticking.

President Donald Trump said the odds congressional negotiators will craft a deal to end his border wall standoff with Congress are "less than 50-50."

Trump told The Wall Street Journal that he doesn't think the negotiators will strike a deal that he'd accept. He pledged to build a wall anyway using his executive powers to declare a national emergency if necessary.

"I personally think it's less than 50-50, but you have a lot of very good people on that board," Trump said in an interview Sunday with the newspaper.

The president was referring to a bipartisan committee of House and Senate lawmakers that will consider border spending as part of the legislative process.

The president's standoff with Democrats on Capitol Hill is far from over and the clock is ticking. The spending bill Trump signed on Friday to temporarily end the partial government shutdown funds the shuttered agencies only until Feb. 15.

It's unclear if the Democrats will budge. Trump seemed girded for battle over the weekend, sending out a series of online messages that foreshadowed the upcoming fight with lawmakers. "BUILD A WALL & CRIME WILL FALL!" he tweeted.

Is Trump prepared to shut down the government again in three weeks?

"Yeah, I think he actually is," acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said. "He doesn't want to shut the government down, let's make that very clear. He doesn't want to declare a national emergency."

But Mulvaney said that at "the end of the day, the president's commitment is to defend the nation and he will do it with or without Congress."

The linchpin in the standoff is Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for his prized wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.

Asked if he'd be willing to accept less than $5.7 billion to build a barrier on the southern border, Trump replied: "I doubt it." He added: "I have to do it right."

Although the government has reopened, many questions remain about retroactive pay. The agreement to open the government came as about 800,000 federal employees missed their second consecutive paycheck."The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is aware of the difficulties created by the lapse in appropriations. We are committed to ensuring that retroactive pay is provided as soon as possible. As a result, we appreciate the support of all human resources, payroll and shared service centers to work towards this goal," said the Office of Personnel Management in a message posted online. READ THE FULL MESSAGE ONLINE.

"OPM encourages agencies to be as flexible as possible as we get our employees back to work. Due to the length of the lapse, we anticipate that some employees may face extenuating circumstances or personal challenges that impact their ability to return to work on their next workday immediately following the end of the lapse. Accordingly, we encourage managers to take these individual challenges into consideration, and to the extent possible, provide appropriate flexibility to employees who are facing legitimate difficulties that may delay their return to work," said the agency.

Having gone without two paychecks, many federal workers were forced to visit food banks or to borrow money.

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Sunday that he hopes all federal workers will receive back pay this week. But when exactly that happens depends on the agency.

"Some of them could be early this week. Some of them may be later this week," Mulvaney said on CBS' Face the Nation. "But we hope that by the end of this week all of the back pay will be made up and of course the next payroll will go out on time."

Some departments have started updating employees on the timing.

In a post on its website, the Department of Housing and Urban Development this weekend assured employees they will receive one paycheck that includes wages for both missed pay periods by Thursday, and any overtime will be paid out in the following pay period. Days when workers were forced to stay home won't count against any medical leave allotments, and time off accrued during the shutdown will be restored. HUD specifies that any unemployment benefits paid to its employees during the shutdown be repaid.

The USDA directed all employees to turn in their timesheets no later than noon Monday; timekeepers worked through the weekend to handle the crush of incoming timesheets, an agency memo said. The department said employees will be paid by Thursday.

An email sent to Justice Department employees at the Civil Division said workers should expect to see their paychecks "hopefully by no later than this Thursday."

As for contractors, Mulvaney said whether they receive any reimbursement depends on the contract.

Fewer than half the furloughed IRS employees recalled during the shutdown to handle tax returns and taxpayers' questions and send out refunds, without pay, reported for work as of Tuesday, according to congressional and government aides.

About 30 percent of the 26,000 recalled workers have sought permission under their union contract to be absent from work, IRS officials told House committee staff in a briefing Thursday. The IRS employees' union contract allows them to be absent from work if they experience hardship during a shutdown.

The official start of the tax filing season comes Monday. The Trump administration has promised that taxpayers owed refunds will be paid on time, and it reversed the policies of earlier presidents and made the money available to pay hundreds of hundreds of billions in refunds on time. The administration planned to eventually send about 46,000 furloughed IRS employees back to work. That's nearly 60 percent of the IRS workforce.

Of the 26,000 employees recalled, about 12,000 have come to work, the IRS officials said. Around 5,000 have claimed the hardship exception under the union contract and another 9,000 couldn't be reached by IRS managers.

The National Zoo says all Smithsonian museums will reopen Tuesday. The National Park Service reopened sites on the National Mall on Sunday.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.