ISSUES IMPORTANT to federal workers often sound like alphabet soup to the uninitiated.
Let's face it, what the heck is a friend talking about when he bemoans OMB Circular A-76 during happy hour?
The answer to that question - which will be discussed next week - and other things related to federal workers' lives is what this weekly column is about.
Including military personnel, federal employees make up about 13.4 percent of the workers living in Howard and Anne Arundel counties. And federal jobs for residents in these counties pay very well - much more than private-sector jobs on average.
Local federal workers crunch numbers at the Woodlawn-based Social Security Administration, monitor the Earth's climate from NASA'S Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt and listen in on suspected terrorists from the National Security Agency at Fort Meade.
The federal government alone employed 10.4 percent of all workers ages 16 and older living in Howard and Anne Arundel counties last year. Generally, that means that for every 10 vehicles parked at The Mall in Columbia, a federal employee probably drives one of them.
In raw numbers, about 15,750 federal employees lived in Howard County and about 28,400 in Anne Arundel County last year, according to Claritas, a market research firm that uses Census data, surveys and public records to tell companies what their customers want.
Those numbers - and we'll try to keep numbers to a minimum in this column - don't account for military personnel. When they are added, more than 57,000 federal employees live in these two counties, or 13.4 percent of workers.
Statewide, federal employees represent a smaller piece of the pie, a piece that is shrinking by about 1 percent every year, labor expert Mahlon Straszheim said.
Nevertheless, Straszheim, chair of the economics department at the University of Maryland, said that federal jobs are crucial to the state's prosperity.
Federal jobs in Maryland paid 78 percent more on average than private-sector jobs last year - $1,333 a week vs. $749 a week, according to Straszheim's statistics from the state's labor department.
Local salary comparisons are just as staggering. The 7,785 federal jobs in Anne Arundel County paid $1,086 a week on average last year, compared with $741 a week in the private sector.
"The federal government gives Maryland the benefit of a stable work force with good health benefits, retirement plans and pay," Straszheim said.
Threats to that stability matter - and the unions contend that a lot of threats exist these days.
Sherry Salomon of Rockville lobbied Congress this week on behalf of the National Treasury Employees Union on plans, such as outsourcing, that she believes will strip rights from federal workers.
"Outsourcing basically means that qualified people - who have been on the job for many years, are professional and have no ax to grind - are going to be gotten rid of and private companies are going to bring in what amounts to scab labor," Salomon said.
Salomon doesn't even work for the federal government. Her spouse does.
And that's what this column is about - people like the Salomons and their lives.
The writer welcomes tips, comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-715-2885.