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Eric Holder gives 'distinguished service' awards to DOJ employees who handled the government shutdown

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Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the Voting Rights Brain Trust event, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014, during the 2014 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington. On Thursday, Holder announced he would be stepping down as attorney general. (AP Photo/Molly Riley) AP Photo/Molly Riley

Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday handed out 278 performance awards to Department of Justice employees, including 11 for the work some lawyers did related to last year's partial government shutdown.

Parts of the government shut down for 16 days in 2013 after Congress failed to reach a funding agreement in time for the new fiscal year. The Department of Justice said that led to "complex legal issues" that several officials worked on, which led to Holder's decision to give them an "Award for Distinguished Service."

Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday handed out 278 awards to Justice Department employees and others for distinguished service. (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

The department said these lawyers faced "novel questions" related to the possibility of a government default on its fiscal obligations during the shutdown. While many warned a government default was possible, much of the government was operating, and a default in the short-term seemed highly unlikely given that the government continued to take in revenues.

"The team advised the White House, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Attorney General and various other agencies, while also fending off lawsuits challenging agencies' actions (or inaction) during the shutdown," the department said Wednesday. "In a historic time of great national significance, and under extraordinary deadlines, the team's work was thorough and careful; covered a wide range of statutory, regulatory and constitutional issues affecting every agency in the Executive Branch; and combined the highest standards of craft with the imagination and creativity demanded by the unprecedented nature of the shutdown and debt limit conflict."

The distinguished service award is the second highest award for public employees that the department hands out.

Holder handed out a total of 278 awards to DOJ employees and others on Wednesday, including 29 members of a team that helped implement a Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a case known as U.S. vs. Windsor.

"Bringing to bear expertise from across the department, the Windsor team coordinated with agencies across the government to identify these laws, as well as other federal rules and policies affected by Section 3, and issue new policies and guidance to expunge the discrimination Section 3 had required," the department said in a release. "In doing so, the team ensured that committed and loving couples throughout the country, and their families, would receive equal treatment by the government regardless of their sexual orientation."

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