It was a crisp, clear lunch hour yesterday, the kind that brought Pat Bryant, Bob MacKichan, Fredrick P. Hink and other federal employees out to the lily pads at 19th and E streets NW for some sun.
But there were clouds in their voices.
With the threat of furloughs and massive spending cuts behind them for at least five days, these federal workers feel relieved, but on edge, angry that they are still a part of the deficit-reduction equation.
"The only relief I could see on people's faces this morning is that the fiscal year has ended," said Pat Bryant, a procurement specialist at the National Science Foundation. "The morale issue comes down to a feeling of powerlessness." The fact that furloughs have hung over workers' heads for so long "is a backhanded way of saying you're dispensable."
"I feel all we've bought is time," said an Interior Department employee. "It's out of our hands."
Congressional budget negotiators and the administration agreed on a deficit-reducing budget Sunday and Congress passed a "continuing resolution" later that day to fund the government until Friday. The stopgap measure averted a government shutdown and furloughs that would have taken place under the mandatory budget cuts of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings law.
If the framework for a budget is approved by Friday, Congress would then consider another stopgap bill to keep the government running and again postpone the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts through Oct. 19. The Oct. 19 deadline would give Congress time to approve legislation implementing the spending cuts and tax increases called for in the budget agreement.
If that legislation is approved, the threat of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings cuts would go away until next year at this time.
Under the budget proposal, the only real change affecting federal workers is the elimination of the lump-sum pension option. According to the Office of Personnel Management and Capitol Hill aides, the change means federal workers have until Oct. 31 to retire from the government if they wish to collect in this way the money they contributed to the pension plan. One lump sum payment would be made shortly after they retire and they would receive a second payment a year later.
Employees who do not choose the lump sum, or who retire after Oct. 31, will get monthly annuity checks.
On the lunch benches yesterday, attention turned to the millions of federal workers who have years left in the job and who cringe to think elected officials will each year put civil servants on the furlough-watch.
The uncertainty is "what causes people to be chagrined," said Hink, an attorney at the General Services Administration who has worked for the government for 18 years. "It's pretty hard to plan for that."
These employees blamed members of Congress and President Bush for prolonging the budget-making process. Some called it a lack of leadership, others indecisiveness, and others said politicians were more concerned about getting reelected than finding an equitable solution to the deficit problem.
"People feel the same toward the executive branch as the executive branch feels towards Congress," said a woman who works at the Interior Department. "The general public thinks incumbents should be cleaned out" of office.
Another Interior employee, who said she feared job reprisal if her name were printed, said the negotiators had made cuts to spending programs that affect the least-vocal and least-organized segments of society. She included her aged grandmother -- whose Medicare premium may go up if the proposal is adopted -- among them.
"I'd rather give up a day or two of work than have my grandmother pay more," she said. "At 100, you shouldn't have to pay anything."