What it means for Md. federal workers

November 15, 1994|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- For 300,000 federal workers who live in Maryland, the message out of last week's Republican takeover of Congress seems to be: Don't expect to be hit in the pocketbook immediately, but hang on to your hats.

With 10 percent of the federal government's 3 million employees living in Maryland, the state's congressional delegation has been vigilant in pursuing their interests. But the Republican sweep stripped the Marylanders in Congress of three key leadership positions and of the clout that seniority in the majority party brings -- at a time when Republicans have interpreted last week's election as a license to reshape government.

The security of federal jobs, pay raises and retirement benefits are certain to come before the new Congress. The Democratic Congress and President Clinton agreed this year to cut the federal work force by 272,000 over five years. But allies of the federal workers fended off efforts to raise the retirement age and to give them smaller raises than they ultimately received.

Now, with Republicans promising reduced government and a balanced budget, there are predictions that severe cuts could lie ahead.

"To be able to accomplish their 'Contract with America,' it is going to require Draconian cuts," said Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat.

"That could require some difficult decisions to be made that could affect the number of workers."

Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Republican who is the lone Marylander in line for a congressional leadership position -- the chairmanship of a Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee -- sought to reassure federal workers. "I think members of Congress will give them equitable treatment," she said, noting that there are 9 million federal employees and dependents who "are in every congressional district in the country."

(Mrs. Morella, whose Montgomery County district includes 51,000 federal workers, may lose her chance to head the compensation and employee benefits subcommittee. The full committee is threatened with extinction as part of a Republican streamlining of the House.)

The message from other Republicans is not so reassuring.

"We will change business as usual," Rep. Newt Gingrich, who is expected to be the next House speaker, said yesterday in discussing Republican control of the House.

Sen. William V. Roth Jr. of Delaware has set an ambitious agenda for the Governmental Affairs Committee that he will head, including streamlining of federal agencies and reform of the civil service system.

"The American people . . . are angry with the way the federal government runs; they want a major overhaul of its operations, and they have given the Republicans in the Senate a chance to deliver on that mandate," he said after the election.

Rep. Jim Ross Lightfoot, an Iowa Republican who is in line to replace Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland as chairman of an appropriations subcommittee that handles federal employee issues, added, "There's going to be some serious consideration given to making some cuts."

Mr. Lightfoot raised a warning flag for his party. "If you downsize just to downsize, you're going to end up cutting some areas that shouldn't be cut," he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Lightfoot added that he favors an agency-by-agency and program-by-program review of government rather than an across-the-board cut.

The latter is the fear of John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 workers in 68 federal agencies.

Ticking off departments that could be targets, he said, "Compared to some things that could come down from a Republican Congress, that 272,000 over five years by attrition could look like a pinprick when someone is getting ready to lop off your arm."

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