Federal workers: Uneasy feelings and fear of furlough

October 09, 1990|By Robert Hilson | Robert Hilson,Evening Sun Staff Reporters Norris West and Kelly Gilbert contributed to this story.

Kathleen Muse can rest easy for now -- but that may change in 10 days.

Muse, a clerk at the downtown Social Security Administration Metro West complex, faced a work furlough today until Congress passed emergency funding legislation needed to authorize spending the money to keep thousands of federal workers on the job.

However, the stopgap spending measure keeps the government operating only through Oct. 19, when a new budget must be agreed upon.

"It's a shame that we have to go through this every year," said Muse, who has worked for the SSA for 16 years. "But I'm confident that [a new budget] will be signed by the 19th."

Although many federal workers in the Baltimore area sighed a somewhat uneasy sigh of relief that they could report to work -- and get paid for it -- some said they will not forget the way Congress has "fudged" their way through deciding upon a budget.

At the Social Security Administration-Health Care Financing Administration complex, workers said they were threatened with 24-hour workweek but had been optimistic that a budget deal would be struck.

"It's as frustrating as can be," said Robert Johnson, an HCFA maintenance employee who said he has put off buying a car until he knows for certain whether he will be furloughed.

"I felt, why should I go out and buy a car when I didn't know whether I'd be working a 40-hour week," Johnson said. "When I pick up a package of beef at the grocery store, I look at the prices now because I don't know if I can afford it."

John Moore, another SSA worker, said he stands to lose money whether a budget accord is reached or not.

"If they furlough us, I lose money," Moore said. "If they pass the new budget, taxes are going to kill the middle class like me. So either way, I lose."

John Tyler, superintendent at Fort McHenry, which had closed for the last three days because of of the government shutdown, said he was sad to see the historic fort's gates closed, but understood the reasons for it.

"It's something that we had to do under the circumstances," Tyler said. "I think this is all something that will be worked out."

Joseph A. Haas, clerk of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, said he flirted with the law yesterday by calling in 450 petit jurors for trials today without assurance that there would be budget money to pay them.

"Under the Anti-Deficiency Act, if I incur an obligation to pay [them] and the government has no funds, I could go to jail," Haas said today. "The prudent thing for me to do, as a bureaucrat, was to cancel all the jurors for today. But I gambled that there would be a budget, and it worked."

Asked if he was angry at Congress for the pressure he endured, he responded, "Is there anyone who isn't?"

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