Closings drain emotions, wallets of Marylanders Furloughed workers stew over politicians, lost day of work, added worries

The Government Shutdown

November 15, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Larry Carson, Dan Thanh Dang, Tanya Jones, Suzanne Loudermilk, Mary Maushard, Lisa Respers, and Sherrie Ruhl contributed to this article.

While five U.S. astronauts orbited around the Earth in the space shuttle Atlantis yesterday, almost 10,000 of their colleagues at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt went home, told by the federal government to take a furlough.

"The general attitude among the scientists and others was that they were disappointed," said Allen Kenitzer, a spokesman for the flight center, where the federal shutdown left only a skeleton crew to support the Atlantis mission. "They basically feel like they're a pawn in the big chess game."

Added astrophysicist Mario Acuna, who has worked at Goddard for 30 years: "What else is new? Leave it to the politicians."

That sentiment raced through Maryland yesterday as most of the state's 220,000 federal employees went home due to the shutdown, leaving everyone from janitors to FBI evidence experts with worries about pay and unfinished work.

Only about 600 of 14,000 Baltimore-area employees at the Social Security Administration remained at work, leaving the agency so short staffed that it had to shut down its web site on the Internet.

About 6,400 of the 7,700 civilian employees at Aberdeen Proving Ground were sent home, as were 1,652 of the 3,700 civilians at Fort Meade. Another 450 people at the U.S. Naval Academy, including professors, came to work only to be sent home.

Even Frances Hughes Glendening, the governor's wife, got a furlough day from her job as an attorney with the Federal Election Commission.

Groups of employees flowed out of the Social Security office in Woodlawn yesterday as early as 10:30 a.m., ducking raindrops as word spread that the facility was being shut down. The office was open only to those with "dire needs," workers said.

"I think it's terrible that the men in Washington can't seem to get it together," said one of the employees, Charlottie McKeldin. "Every year we have these scares."

Others tried to look at the bright side.

"I'm going shopping," said Bobbie Copeland, a Social Security management analyst. "For the first two days I'll enjoy it and after that I'll worry."

Federal payrolls in Maryland come close to half a billion dollars a month, according to financial experts, who worried that cutting their pay may adversely affect Maryland's already-sluggish economy.

Others worried about more than the economy's life blood.

Pat Lakatta, spokeswoman for the Greater Chesapeake and Potomac Region Red Cross, said federal offices are a major source of worksite blood donations and the shutdown could have a serious impact on the area's blood supply if it continues even through this week.

"If it lasts all week, we could lose 1,600 units, which is 25 percent of our weekly total," she said. The agency had just a half-day's supply for universal Type O blood on hand, she said, and two to three days worth of other types.

At the FBI office in Woodlawn, clerks and technicians headed toward the parking lot as their supervisors wondered how they'll keep the office running smoothly.

"It's not a good thing," said the area FBI chief, Timothy P. McNally. While agents and investigators were not affected, FBI support staff could be periodically furloughed if the government doesn't work out the funding problems.

"It disrupts our day-to-day operations," he said. "It's not good for morale."

Workers at the 200-year-old Hampton Mansion in Towson, a national park site once described as "a palace rising in the wilderness," locked the gates to the public yesterday afternoon.

"Hopefully, it's only for a day or two. It's what we're praying for," said Bess Sherman, park superintendent who sent six of nine full-time employees home.

"I could go home and mope and be depressed, but there's nothing I can do about it," said Ms. Colbert, the mother of a 9-year-old and 3-year-old who -- like her coworkers -- received an unemployment form in the event the shutdown proved lengthy. "I'm sorry it came to this."

Maryland politicians were outraged -- and they directed blame on the political party opposite their own.

United States Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat, called the shutdown "the crowning achievement in the Republicans' relentless string of attacks on federal employees" while Republican Congressman Robert L. Ehrlich called President Clinton "insensitive towards the men and women who make up our federal workforce."

The shutdown also has affected many that don't draw a federal paycheck. Among them is 28-year-old Tom Danyluk of Columbia, who's waiting for a passport so he can go on a vacation he's planned for months to Frankfurt, Germany.

"The passport is at the Washington bureau of passport services. It's ready to be mailed, but they won't send it because of the shutdown," Mr. Danyluk said. "I'm going to be out of $1,000 [the cost of the trip] if I don't get the passport by Friday. I'm stuck in the middle of this whole mess."

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