[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] "It was hard to believe this was really happening to me," said Burt, a 35-year-old divorcee who lives with her two teen-age sons in the Hybla Valley area of Fairfax.
It didn't take long before her impending RIF forced Burt to rearrange priorities. She canceled her summer vacation, eliminated family outings to restaurants, pared down back-to-school clothing purchases and put off buying anything that wasn't a necessity.
"There wasn't much luxury in my life before," she said. "But now it's down to the bare bones."
As a GS-7, Burt earns $16,711 a year, with take-home pay of $868 a month. Her monthly expenses include $375 (which includes utilities) for the two-bedroom garden apartment where she and her sons have lived the past three years, about $300 to $400 for groceries, $140 for a loan payment to her local credit union and miscellaneous costs such as clothing and school expenses.
Burt doesn't have another job yet, although she hopes to find one soon. If necessary, she estimates her severance pay will tide her over until December. Still, after 11 years with the federal government, Burt finds it hard to believe that she is among the nearly 2,500 federal workers in the Washington area who have been RIFed.
In 1970, according to census figures, more than 105,000 Northern Virginians worked for the federal government. Although similar figures from the 1980 census are not yet available, area officials estimate that, given Northern Virginia's 20 percent population increase in the last decade, the number of federal workers has risen correspondingly. If that estimate holds true, about 21 percent of the more than 580,000 Northern Virginians in the area labor market now work for the federal government.
What federal and state officials don't know is how many Northern Virginians on the federal payroll will be among those workers whose jobs are eliminated under current or proposed budget cuts.
Currently, Northern Virginia has an unemployment rate of 3.6 percent, which compares favorably with the state rate of 5.4 percent and the national rate of 7.2 percent. But, local officials point out, that rate could be pushed up significantly if even as few as 1 percent of the federal workers in Northern Virginia find themselves out of work.
The number of unemployed federal workers in this area could be much higher than the current 2,500 if President Reagan's latest plans for further budget cuts are approved.
Although the Virginia Employment Commission offices report no great increase thus far in RIFed workers filing for unemployment benefits, state officials say they are aware that the trickle quickly could to turn into a flood.
For Northern Virginians like Burt, the impact has been more immediate. Where RIFs have been formally announced, workers have been scrambling for jobs. And even in offices where impending RIFs are only rumors, workers say the constant worry that their agency could be next on the hit list has many of their colleagues on edge.
The Community Services Administration, a vestige of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society, drew its last breath yesterday. However, some of the 1,000 workers at the antipoverty agency could remain on the federal payroll depending on the outcome of a preliminary hearing tomorrow to determine if some CSA workers should be taken on by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This latest development, CSA workers say, just prolongs the uncertainty and anxiety plaguing so many RIF victims.
"I always felt secure working for the federal government," says Burt, who has worked at CSA seven years and at the U.S. Postal Service four years.
"Everyone is saying to me that a secretary should have an easy time finding another job," she said last week as she scooped another armload of CSA files into a huge trash bin. "But that just hasn't been true for me."
CSA Controller Curt Christensen, Burt's boss for the last four years, agrees that positions are not easy to find.
"She is a good secretary with a good reputation throughout CSA," said Christensen, who has been trying to help Burt find another job. "It's been very difficult to find a job through the government. And the problem is we have been awfully busy here and she has not taken the time to look as soon as she should have."
Burt concedes that since Congress voted in July to dismantle CSA, she has tried to put the bad news out of her mind.
"It really didn't dawn on me that this was really happening to me," she said.
Even though she has delayed the job search, Burt has made some other changes. "I usually take a vacation in the summer," she said, "but this year all I did was go home to North Carolina for a few days to visit my parents."
And dinner out was eliminated quickly. "For a treat this summer, sometimes we would have a cookout with the family," Burt said. "We just can't afford to go out. Even McDonald's costs you like going to Blackie's these days."
For school clothes for her 14- and 15-year-old sons, she shopped the sales at Montgomery Ward. When both youngsters, students at Groveton High School, set their hearts on designer jeans, she searched until she found them on discount and then put the jeans on lay-away rather than charge them. "I just can't get into the credit card trap," she said.
"I have tried to maintain my spending within my salary," said Burt. "There are no luxuries. I can't go to the Kennedy Center and all those exotic places or out for $45 dinners. I go to movies very seldom. For a special night out, a girlfriend and I may stop off on the way home and have a drink, but that's very seldom, too."
It wasn't until Burt received her formal RIF notice Aug. 21 that the news really hit home. Burt registered with the CSA outplacement service, but has had only one interview so far. She's applied at a few agencies on her own, but hasn't started looking outside the government, "because I would lose all my seniority. But I may have to start looking elsewhere soon."
She is not bitter about the situation, and she and her coworkers tried to remain cheerful to the bitter end. "I feel the outplacement program people have done what they can," she said. "There's not much they can do with all the RIFs, cuts and abolishing going on all over. There is nowhere to go." That's why she would prefer going to a larger federal agency where she feels there would be less threat of RIF.
"If I can I would like to get a job that pays more, although I would take a GS-6 at the same salary," she said. "But I couldn't survive with less than what I make now."
As it is, Burt just manages to make ends meet. She doesn't own a car, she says, because she can't afford one. Her fixed monthly expenses already take more than $800 of her $868 paycheck. Her government health insurance benefits will expire in 30 days, and if she wants to continue them, it will cost her $150 a month.
With all this on her mind, Burt says it has been hard not to let her problems affect her home life.
"I try to keep my work separated from my home, but I find that little bitty things bother me and I'm a little more irritable with my kids.
"Sometimes I confide in my friends and sisters and my mother. But I am really trying not to let it bother me as much as I can at this point and, hopefully, before things get too rough, I will find something."
Burt's one hope is that the outcome of tomorrow's hearing on CSA jobs will give her another chance on the federal payroll. But if that falls through, Burt admits it probably will force her to at last look beyond the federal government.
"I'll have to cut back more on things like long-distance calls to my mother and buy cheaper brands of foods and less beef, but we'll be okay," said Burt. "But I'm hoping something will come through soon. I try not to let it get to me and hope for the best."
Even if she does land a job at another federal agency, she is sure it will be only a matter of time until RIF rumors hit again -- renewing her current worries.
"I'll be glad," she said, "when this RIF stuff is all over."