Federal offices, used to threat of closing, await word

October 24, 1990|By Susan Hansen | Susan Hansen,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- As yet another government shutdown threat looms, a new mood of resignation has settled over the federal Office of Personnel Management.

Gone are the outrage, frustration and confusion of just three weeks and two near-government-shutdowns ago. Emotionally spent OPM employees this time are finding it more difficult to get worked up.

"People are rather numb at this stage of the game," OPM spokesman Richard McGowan said. "There's a what-will-be-will-be attitude."

Unlike earlier this month, when the OPM received a steady stream of calls from panicked federal workers, Mr. McGowan said the telephone has been relatively quiet. Now government agencies and employees know the shutdown contingency plans, he said, and are sitting tight to see what happens in Congress.

The question once again is whether budget negotiators can devise a plan that will pass the muster of both the president and Congress before midnight tonight, when the current federal spending resolution expires. If they cannot, congressional leaders are expected to try to pass a new short-term spending resolution for the president's approval.

White House officials were giving no clues yesterday afternoon on whether the president would refuse -- as he did earlier this month -- to approve another short-term measure and force a government shutdown.

"Right now it's all a guessing game," Mr. McGowan said. He said the OPM expected to receive word from the Office of Management and Budget today about whether to begin instructing federal agencies to prepare to close shop.

As a result of the two close calls earlier this month, including the forced suspension of government operations during the Columbus Day weekend, each federal agency's shutdown contingency plans are already in place.

One OMB official, who asked not to be identified, said the agency had not issued any specific instructions regarding the latest shutdown threat. But he said that even if a last-minute short-term spending measure failed tonight, federal workers should report to work tomorrow and be prepared to work at least three hours to begin closing down the government.

Meanwhile, OPM employees "are trying to be optimistic," Mr. McGowan said. "Right now, it's sit and wait and hope."

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