In the past, Norman Seay and other black federal employes used to get together to discuss ways of advancing in the federal system and building job contacts with each other. But this week, with some 8,000 of their number meeting here for a Blacks in Government conference, the talk is all about survival.
Seay, executive vice president of the group and this year's conference chairman, has reason to be concerned: He was officially notified this month that his job is one of those being abolished as a result of budgets cuts ordered by the Reagan administration.
"I'm on my way out," said Seay, who works as an equal opportunity specialist at the Health Resources Administration here. His reduction in force (RIF) notice came in a final flurry of such communications from agencies that must trim their personnel rosters by Sept. 30.
Seay and other black federal employes contend the employment cuts are striking a disproportionate number of blacks and other minorities. Blacks, they say, have less seniority in government service and hold a larger share of jobs in the social service and antipoverty agencies that have been hit hardest by the budget ax.
Although neither black officials nor the Office of Personnel Management could provide a racial breakdown of RIF notices issued to date, blacks say they expect the principle of "last hired, first fired" will adversely affect them. They are beginning to collect data on the impact of RIFs on black workers, who make up about 17 percent of the total federal 2.1 million work force, excluding the U.S. Postal Service.
Blacks argue that the RIFs, which they say are striking mid-level professionals just as they begin to move up the career ladder, are only one of the setbacks they are experiencing under the Reagan administration.
"The impact of this new administration is that blacks are in trouble," Marie Dias Bemberry, former special assistant to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, told conference delegates at a Washington Hilton meeting yesterday. She said the risky future of the Voting Rights Act and plans announced this week to weaken federal job discrimination rules for firms doing business with the government amounted to "assaults on all the gains we've made . . . there are constant attempts to take back what we have."
At the Community Services Administration, for example, black workers say they are losing not only their jobs at the agency -- which is being abolished at the end of next month -- but also their involvement in social programs they care about.
The CSA employs about 600 workers here and 1,000 workers in all, 60 percent of whom are black. One such worker, business analyst William Johnson, has accumulated eight years of government service and also has held jobs in private industry. Yet he and his coworkers say they probably will have to take pay cuts of $6,000 to $8,000 if they can't find new government jobs and have to go to work in the private sector.
"It's hard to swallow, whatever color you are," said Johnson, a 37-year-old father of three from Clinton, Md.
Patrica Aiken finds the prospect of such a job change particularly stressful. She came to work for the federal government nearly 21 years ago as a GS3 clothing clerk at the Internal Revenue Service. She now is a GS11, making more than $22,000 as a CSA congressional inquiry specialist. She attributes her rise through the government ranks to the affirmative action programs the Reagan administration has decided to deemphasize.
"I was one of the few blacks that had any seniority when the upward mobility programs got goint," said Aiken, 38. "But my seniority isn't going to help me because we're being totally abolished. We don't have retention rights or an umbrella agency that is looking out for us."
Aiken is glad she is single and self-supporting, without the additional family worries of some of her RIFfed friends. Still, she recently signed a contract to purchase a condominium and says her future financial well-being is a constant worry.
"I'll be starting all over," said Aiken, who has appealed to friends at other agencies to be on the lookout for jobs.
A spokesman for a congressional federal government service task force headed by Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.) said yesterday the group will begin monitoring the impact of RIFs on minorities and women and expects to have firm data by October.
But Lonis C. Ballard, president of Blacks in Government, noted in his convention address this week that even without statistics black federal workers know that "survival is the name of the game . . . our careers today are not merely frustrated by stagnation -- as in the past -- but threatened with extinction."