Federal closings would hit Md. hard Tens of thousands of workers caught in political showdown

The Government Shutdown

November 14, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers John W. Frece, Ellen Gamerman, Jay Hancock, Lisa Respers and Frank Roylance contributed to this article.

Tens of thousands of federal workers in Maryland -- from Social Security secretaries to Naval Academy professors to NASA rocket scientists -- were expected to be sent home this morning as part of a government shutdown that has left many wondering what's next.

"It's scary," said Harriet Scales, a 33-year employee of the Social Security Administration who works as a benefit earnings technician in Woodlawn. "Most of us work from paycheck to paycheck."

With about 220,000 federal employees living here, Maryland is more reliant on government spending than most states and the expected shutdown could hurt the state's lackluster economy as much as the workers.

Federal payrolls in Maryland come close to half a billion dollars a month, said Michael Conte, director of the Regional Economic Studies Program at the University of Baltimore.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening made a last-ditch appeal to President Clinton and congressional leaders to avert the shutdown, but conceded it was likely to happen and announced plans to help federal employees who live in Maryland.

For nearly 10,000 workers who have state jobs that are funded by the federal government, the governor said they should report to work today as usual. For the time being, he said, the state will pay their salaries -- to the tune of $1.4 million a day -- and expects to be reimbursed by the federal government.

The governor said federal employees are "caught in the middle of a tug of war between the Congress and the president."

"There are literally thousands of families in Maryland today, and tens of thousands around the country, who have spent the last few nights sitting around the kitchen tables worrying about their families, worrying about things like mortgage payments, car payments, tuition, child care and even food on the tables," the governor said.

"They are worrying because they do not know if they will have a job to go to or if they will have money to pay their bills if the federal government shuts down."

Experts said the effect of a lost day or more of federal wages could be felt by the rest of the state.

nTC "If you don't go out to dinner this week because you don't get paid, you're probably not going to go out to dinner twice next week to make up for it," said Ann O'Brien Franklin, chief economist for the state Board of Revenue Estimates. "So there will be a negative effect on consumption."

About 130,000 federal jobs are based in Maryland, at an average salary of $43,600, Ms. Franklin said. Another 90,000 federal workers live in the state but commute to jobs in the District of Columbia or Virginia, she added.

If the government does close its doors, two agencies with big Maryland presences would send most of their workers home.

Only 623 of the Social Security Administration's 13,864 workers in the Baltimore area would stay on the job. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt -- currently monitoring a mission by the space shuttle Atlantis -- would furlough all but 1,370 of its 11,167 civil service and contract employees, including scientists and engineers deemed non-essential.

Allen Kenitzer, a NASA spokesman, said scientists and others are worried about the effects of a furlough on their programs. Goddard is preparing for the Thanksgiving Day launch of SOHO, an orbiting solar observatory, and a Dec. 2 launch for the X-ray Timing Explorer (XTE) satellite.

"As you can imagine, people are just trying to figure out what to do. They have to continue to get ready for these missions," Mr. Kenitzer said.

Military personnel at the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Station and Naval Surface Warfare Center in Annapolis are expected to work a full day today. But roughly 450 of the academy's 1,650 civilian employees -- including professors -- are targeted for furloughs.

Instead of canceling classes, military instructors will substitute for the civilians and try to teach lessons without relying on lectures, said Capt. Tom Jurkowsky, an academy spokesman.

"A class leader will hold a discussion or hand out some sort of substantive readings," he said. "The kids will not be sent back to their rooms and told, 'Go vegetate.'"

At Fort Meade and the National Security Agency in Anne Arundel County, and at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford, all civilian personnel have been told to report to work as usual. If the government shuts down, the non-essential employees will go home shortly after their arrival.

Fort Meade employs about 26,000 people, most affiliated with the NSA. Aberdeen employs 7,700 civilian employees and 4,700 military personnel. Military employees will not be furloughed.

Some financial experts said even if the budget standoff sparks a shutdown, it probably won't last very long.

"I don't think they're going to shut down for more than a day, day and a half," said Robert Sweet, chief economist for First National Bank of Maryland's Asset Management Group.

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