The professor has already cut back in anticipation of the forthcoming budget slashing: He told a carpenter who was going to build bookshelves in the living room that the $5,000 job will have to be put off, and he told his doggie day care provider that he’ll have to go without that service when the furloughs kick in.
Even those workers who don’t expect to take a direct hit are feeling the pain of the automatic cuts that Congress set up in a failed effort to get themselves to address the nation’s budget woes.
“My understanding is that there’s no impact on my employment this year,” said Raymond Won, an engineering manager at the Energy Department’s Office of Science, the nation’s largest supporter of the basic research in physical sciences that can result in innovations in the private sector. “But there’s immediate impact on the work I do. What sequestration is doing is preventing the start on new-generation equipment that will create the next wave of American jobs.”
Won, a federal worker for 31 years, resents the notion, now commonplace on talk radio and Web sites devoted to bashing the government, that federal workers carry a lighter load than their for-profit counterparts.
“My batting average is 1.000,” he said. “I take great pride in that, and I am relentless in delivering on time and below cost estimates. Of course, there are things the government could probably do without; there’s always waste and fraud. But there are parts of the government that conduct work with extreme excellence. And be careful how much you bash federal workers because if you don’t attract good talent, then don’t be surprised if government becomes much worse than it is today.”
That worry about what comes after the bashing is especially on the minds of older government workers, who are concerned about their pensions but even more anxious about why politicians are so willing to make federal employees the target of popular rage.
Garret Albert, a retired government engineer whose wife still works at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, understands that pensions, once considered routine, have become a wild luxury in the private sector, so when many Americans hear that public employees still get retirement pay, they can get frustrated, even jealous.
“I realize that since the government doesn’t produce money-making things, it’s easier to disparage the work,” he said. “And a lot of other professions are disparaged too. But it seems so short-sighted to allow a very small minority of vociferous people to sway politicians into taking such discouraging actions.”
Working for Uncle Sam was never meant to be a path to prosperity, and in Mantua, the ranches and split-levels, good-sized houses on large lots, make it hard to recall that this kind of 1960s development was no lap of luxury back when federal workers moved in. This was the sort of place that stretched the bounds of suburbia and stretched the idea of what a middle-class salary could buy.
Today, many federal workers in Mantua say their children couldn’t possibly afford to live here, especially the ones who have followed in their parents’ footsteps and joined the military or civil service. The younger generation finds itself farther afield, in Manassas or Woodbridge or at the wrong end of an anguishing commute to Stafford County.
Such is the price of the affluence that pumped Fairfax real estate prices into the stratosphere over the past quarter-century.
But in Mantua, in what is rapidly becoming a NORC — a naturally occurring retirement community — the older federal workers and recent retirees aren’t content to think about how much value their properties have gained through the years. Rather, they look back on their years of service and wonder if this is the end, a pivot away from the idea that working for your country is something honorable and stable.
Jenny Foo spent her last years at State working on tough cases, such as bringing home the remains of American contractors who had been taken hostage in Iraq. The work involved late nights and extra days, but it was work that she thought her fellow Americans would want her to be doing. “It was never eight hours’ work,” she said.