Since the United Stares government arrived here in the form of several wagonloads of files, ledgers and grumbling New York clerks and Philadelphia lawyers, the federal dollar has dominated this area's economy. The year 1977 won't bring any changes.
During the 201st year of this republic, Uncle Sam will continue to pump a minimum of $256 million into this city and suburbs - every two weeks - in the form of green, brown or pink paychecks which civil servants will cash, bank and spend.
The biggest employer in the metro Washington area is the U.S. Navy. Number two is the Legislative Branch of government (the Congress, Government Printing Office and Library of Congress among the agencies of the Senate and House). Number three supplier of paychecks is the Department of Health. Education and Welfare. And the list goes on for a long time before a non-federal employer even makes the list. Obviously this is a company twon. But the company isn't General Motors or Boeing or U.S. Steel.
There are 350,000 government workers here - that we know of. There are at least another 10,000 employees with the Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and other secret organizations whose payrolls aren't known. But the people on those payrolls also buy homes, rent apartments, buy new and used cars, take taxis (and now Metro), eat at Sans Souci and MacDonalds, buy groceries at Safeway, Giant and Grand Union, and have revolving charges at Woodies, Hecht's and, finally, Blooming-dale's.
Besides the known and very real federal presence here, the Army, Navy and Air Force have nearly 100,000 uniformed personnel stationed nearby, and there are also 70,000 retired civil servants and 30,000 exmilitary people drawing monthly annuities or pensions.
President-elect Carter plans to repackage the government and trim the number of agencies and bureaus. But he has assured government employees and their union leaders that nobody will lose a job or seniority.if anything, the government here will continue its slow growth. Most of the new jobs are expected in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs where most of the growth has been in recent years.
Federal officials say it is difficult to project the actual growth of the civilian work force here because budgets, programs and the level of inflation (which in turn can cause workers to retire or stay on the job) are unknown. But they do expect employment here to remain at the 350,000-plus level, and perhaps to increase slightly if the President and Congress create new programs requiring additional workers to manage them.
Government and military retirees are guaranteed two cost-of-living raises this year, increases that will add millions of dollars to the local economy. The first increase will go into effect March 1 and be for at least 4.5 per cent.
That March boost, which will first show up in the April monthly checks mailed to the 100,000 annuitants here, could be higher if December's cost of living goes above the current level of the consumer price index (for November) which is 173.8.
Retirees will be due for a second cost-of-living raise on Sept. 1, and it will show up in checks mailed for Oct. 1 delivery.
The 12,000 postal workers here - whose wages are set by contract - will get one pay raise plus two cost-of-living increases this year. Blue collar federal employees (mechanics, carpenters, drivers and skilled tradesmen) are due an increase some time in October to keep them current - by government definition - with the prevailing private industry rate for blue collar jobs.
The granddaddy of all pay increases - the Oct. 1 adjustment for white collar federal civilians, political appointees and the armed forces - remains an unknown. In past years, it has run between 4 per cent and 6 per cent.
Each 1 per cent increase in the federal-military payroll costs slightly more than $500 million on an annual basis. President-elect Carter has said he wants to hold the lid on government spending, and has indicated that he might go along wiht the general 5 per cent "cap" on federal pay favored by the Nixon-Ford administrations.
But whether there is a big pay raise or a small one, slow growth or almost zero-population growth in the federal establishment here, the government transfusion of money, material, contracts and the satellite support services it requires will keep metropolitan Washington a relatively prosperous area.