A real estate agent in McLean recently showed a house built in 1960 to prospective buyers, and suggested that the bomb shelter built under the garage would serve nicely as a wine cellar. A computer systems engineer in Maryland worries that his always-lucrative consulting work for the Daddy Warbucks of the federal budget, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), soon will go the same way as that bomb shelter.
"I don't know from one contract to the next whether I'll have a job," he laments after almost 20 years in the business. "There was never much doubt a year ago or so."
A Virginia DOD contractor appraises the situation as more dire than that: "I don't even know if I'll have a job each morning. The Pentagon is cutting back across the board."
Forging swords into plowshares changes a smithy's labors -- and ultimately may shut down some shops. How the bankruptcy of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the subsequent breakout of peace will alter the livelihood of Cold War careerists isn't clear yet, although one thing is certain: Cold War careers are in for a shakeout.
"It's those who have gone into the hardware, the missile systems, who are most vulnerable to the cutbacks," says Ron Krannich, president of Development Concepts Inc., a training, publishing and consulting firm in Manassas, and a longtime observer of federal careers trends.
Based on reported agreements reached in the last two summit meetings between presidents Bush and Gorbachev, it's a good guess that contractors that make chemical weapons are in for bleak times, too. Weaponry of all kinds is out. Much of the related spending and hundreds of thousands of jobs are likely to be eliminated, says Krannich, who points out in his latest book, "Complete Guide to International Jobs and Careers" (Impact Publications, $15.95), that in the early months of 1990 new defense contracting already had declined by 40 percent and at least 40,000 Pentagon procurement employees had been tabbed for layoff.
"To put it all in historical perspective, at the end of World War II and and after the Vietnam war, we had to retrench," says Krannich. "We had tremendous cutbacks. But I suspect the real cutbacks then were in terms of bringing the troops home and not having rapid growth in military personnel. We might be seeing a very significant departure this time. And this is going to be more difficult to measure in terms of its impact on the private sector."
Not all national security and related careers are in jeopardy, however, says Krannich. Most likely to weather this sudden calm in international relations are contractors in the fields of computers, communications, electronics and space systems. "Software developers are going to continue to maintain their operations," says Krannich. "The other ones who are going to escape it are those who've been diversifying. Contractors out there who are 95 to 100 percent into DOD are going to be in trouble. It's like a single company town; when the economy goes bad, it goes bad."
Other repercussions are probable. Krannich figures deep-freezing the Cold War is likely to drive many who've worked that trough into different professions -- and not easily in some cases. "Some of them are going to make lateral transfers and look for other jobs inside the other agencies," he says. "Others are going to change careers completely ... For instance, procurement skills on the civilian side or military side of defense, those skills are going to be much less transferable. Many of them are going to have to look for new careers and not just look for the next defense contractor."
As for government employees and military officials who have retired to take their skills into the private sector, Krannich predicts "that revolving door that has been open for the last 30 years is going to slow down."
None of this will happen soon, adds Krannich. "We're talking about a year or two lag time," he says. "You've got contracts out there. That process means you just don't stop things very quickly, which means some contractors will have time to make adjustments. Probably the real small firms, the ones that operate totally on one or two DOD contracts, will get hit fastest and hardest. But nothing seems to be definite right now."
On the Other Hand The fall of the Iron Curtain opens new possibilities for business, professional and volunteer contacts there. Jumping into that void two weeks ago is the newly chartered Citizens Democracy Corps (CDC), an Agency for International Development-funded clearinghouse announced by President Bush last month. Its purpose: "To collect and disseminate information on the needs in Eastern and Central Europe" and to assist in matching U.S. associations, universities, private voluntary organizations and foundations to those needs. Enterprising businesses wanting to venture that way can contact the Eastern Europe Business Information Center (EEBIC) at the Department of Commerce. EEBIC: (202) 377-2645; CDC: (202) 872-0933 or (800) 321-1945.