Employees resentful at disruption of lives Some are angry at their employer

some can't pay bills

The Federal Budget

January 06, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,Knight-Ridder News ServiceSUN STAFF Sun staff writers Anne Haddad, Tanya Jones, Tom Keyser and Lisa Respers contributed to this article.

Many have spent years, even decades, as the engineers, secretaries, nurses, technicians and managers who help keep the federal government running.

But for three weeks, they've been virtually shut down.

As House and Senate leaders ended the partial government shutdown yesterday, thousands of Marylanders had another day furloughs, cutbacks and uncertainty about when their lives will really return to normal.

The Sun spent part of yesterday morning with an environmental analyst, a health care secretary, a census counter, two Social Security analysts and an FBI administrator, who all have been either furloughed or told to come to work for half or no pay.

Some can't make their financial obligations. Some are angry with the government they work for. But they've all got something to say about the shutdown.

Linda Hall of Westminster, secretary for the Health Care Financing Administration's office off Rolling Road.

Ms. Hall's job is to answer the phone all day, trouble-shooting for befuddled Medicare customers.

This week she's on the phone at home, asking creditors to wait for their money. She is just as heartened by their sympathetic responses as she is disillusioned over what she once thought was the most secure job she could get.

"I always thought that working for the government meant job security," said the single mother who has worked for the federal government for 23 years. "I wanted a sure thing."

Right now, she's not even sure she can buy groceries.

"I have a little over $100 in my checkbook," said Ms. Hall. When her child-support check arrives in the mail this month, it will already have been spent on day care for her son Matthew, 4.

Reality kicked in for her and most of her co-workers on Jan. 2, when her paycheck arrived with about half the usual amount because she worked only one week during that pay period. Instead of the usual $515 she clears every two weeks, she got about $300.

Meanwhile, her bills are coming due: $110 for utilities, $50 for the plumber who fixed her broken heat pump, $53 for the phone, $80 for the homeowners' association, $350 for auto insurance, $566 for the mortgage and an average of $110 a week for day care.

"I get mad at Clinton," Ms. Hall said.

"Clinton is just being hard-headed about it. He's being stubborn to make a point politically."

Al Giglitto of Columbia, a survey statistician for the U.S. Bureau of the Census.

In his 28 years with the federal government, Mr. Giglitto, 55, says he has seen nothing like this.

"We are basically being used as hostages," he said at his home as he took a break from packing Christmas lights.

"Federal workers are a bargaining chip. And it's outrageous, because we have nothing to do with the budget process. We're a political pawn, that's what we are."

He hasn't set foot in his office in Prince George's County since Dec. 18, the day the Census Bureau was sent home.

"My opinion of the elected officials is that they're really falling down on the job when they can't agree on a budget," he said. "And this is an election year. November isn't that far away. I know all the federal employees I talk to say they'll remember when they vote this year."

They'll remember, he said, by voting against Mr. Gingrich and Mr. Clinton.

"They're both to blame," said Mr. Giglitto, a Democrat who voted for Mr. Clinton.

He's anxious to return to work. He and his co-workers had just started a $9 million, 12-month project to test the feasibility of collecting some census data monthly and publishing it annually -- in addition to the census collection every 10 years.

And, Mr. Giglitto said, since Census Bureau workers have been out of work, they've collected none of their usual data on crime, housing, health, the economy -- and unemployment.

Jim and Peggy Aliberti of Catonsville, husband and wife who work as systems analysts for the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.

Since they are both legally blind, Jim and Peggy Aliberti would be within their rights if they stayed home and collected disability checks from the government. Instead, the two federal employees spent yesterday wishing they were on the job.

"We are setting an example for our kids," Mrs. Aliberti. "They know that you have to work hard for things they want to do.

"It's annoying to see adults acting like children, and I think that is what Congress is doing," said Mrs. Aliberti, who has worked at SSA for 17 years.

"I think that Clinton, as president, could have done a lot more than he's done."

A major concern for the Alibertis was finding ways to spend their time while the crisis went on.

"It's not like we can run down to McDonald's or Taco Bell and get jobs," Mrs. Aliberti said.

"Even if I was to volunteer at a hospital, it would take them awhile to find a position I could fit into."

Vernon Laurie of Annapolis, a senior environmental analyst with the Environmental Protection Agency.

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