Reagan administration budget cuts and layoffs have hit the Washington area nearly twice as hard as any other region in the country, and many more federal workers here can expect to be out of work by Christmas, according to the results of a congressional survey released yesterday.
The survey of reductions in force (RIFs) in government agencies said federal employes here have absorbed the brunt of job losses -- an estimated 3,554 out of a reported 15,002 terminations nationwide so far -- and it said government "separations" are only the "tip of the iceberg that threatens labor force morale and program performance."
Additionally, area congressmen expressed concern that the RIFs are not necessarily being conducted in a way that retains higher-quality employes in each agency experiencing the layoffs.
Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), chairman of the Federal Government Service Task Force that compiled the survey, said the Washington area total nearly doubles that of the Southwest, which is the next largest RIF area with 1,890 layoffs.
With 360,000 federal workers, the Washington area has the nation's largest concentration of government employes, constituting 12.5 percent of a total federal workforce of 2.8 million, according to the task force. Yet Barnes said that layoffs here have comprised a disproportionate 1.45 percent of the area's federal employment compared to 1 percent for the Southwest region and .3 percent in the Mountain States region, where 328 of a 96,000-plus workforce have been terminated.
Barnes was joined at a Capitol Hill news conference yesterday by the area's Democratic congressional representatives, all of whom denounced not only the RIFs but also the manner in which they are being carried out and the impact on government morale and performance.
"People are being cut loose not because they're not doing a good job but simply because under some formula they fall under the ax," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). He noted that despite earlier administration assurances that budget cutting objectives could be met through attrition rather than layoffs, federal workers here and around the country are losing their jobs despite years of government service.
"We have an administration that campaigned on the issue that the government was the enemy," said Hoyer, who argued that such an attitude has had the effect of putting the government employes themselves under attack.
The task force surveyed each agency about its RIF actions through fiscal 1981 and its projections for the first quarter of the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. The task force said the employment picture for federal workers could get worse given increased pressure from the Office of Management and Budget to make still further staff cuts.
"OMB is essentially saying, 'You make these staff cuts now whether or not Congress ever implements the budget cuts," Barnes said.
Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes said the RIFs would disrupt not only individual workers and their families but also government programs, leading to slower service for the public and, consequently, more criticism of government workers.
As for layoffs to come, task force director Robert Honig said the impact here and nationally could be severe by the end of the year. To date, he said, only five agencies have disclosed their projections, and they are predicting RIFs that total more than 4,000.
The task force said the largest number of layoffs so far has come from the Department of Health and Human Services, where 7,775 are slated for termination between now and mid-November. The next highest agency total is the Interior Department (1,603), the Energy Department (1,043), the Community Services Administration (1,043) and the Education Department (667). Ironically, some of the CSA workers who lost their jobs when the agency shut down have been hired by HHS temporarily to help administer anti-poverty programs that are being phased out.
Locally, RIFs occurred in 18 of 49 federal agencies, with the highest number of layoffs here coming at HHS (1,510), Energy (348), Commerce (332), Treasury (235) and CSA (410). And OPM said yesterday more RIFs are slated for HHS, Agriculture, Action, Education, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and several other agencies.
In an effort to personalize the numbers, however, the task force news conference featured Susan Frant, a 41-year-old program analyst at HHS's Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Self-supporting and the mother of two, she will lose her GS13 job near the end of this month.
"I suddenly find myself looking for a job in a depressed industry," said Frant, who has sent out more than 100 resumes to no avail as yet. "I never thought of myself as the enemy, but lately I've had the feeling that the federal worker and not the federal budget is the enemy."
As the budget ax slices through government corridors, some employe groups have gone to court or are exploring legal options to fight their dismissals. Others, such as workers in the Department of Labor's Employment Standards Administration, are working with management to set up special furlough or part-time work arrangements in order to save jobs.