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Shrinking Budget Means Lost Jobs for Federal Workers

September 1, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Every taxpayer penny saved is a penny earned to both Democrats and Republicans. But to Mark Bonito it also meant a job lost.

Bonito, 41, of Daly City, Calif., is one of roughly 150,000 people who have been laid off from federal jobs since President Clinton took office in January 1993. He got his pink slip Aug. 14, weeks before the final battle over the fiscal 1996 budget begins when Congress returns from its summer recess next week. His last day of work will come in mid-October.

``I’m in the process of sending out applications, as we speak,″ said Bonito, a public affairs worker at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Menlo Park, Calif., office. He has worked for the agency for 11 of the 15 years he has held a government job.

``This was a combination of a lot of unfortunate circumstances,″ he said.

Shrinking budgets and a drive to trim and reorganize the government’s work force have reduced the number of federal jobs by about 7 percent, administration officials said.

Final 1995 figures won’t be in until the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, but the government estimates it will pay a total of $115.3 billion in salaries and benefits to 2 million civilian employees, down from 2.15 million in 1993.

That doesn’t include the Postal Service’s 802,000 employees, since they work for a self-supporting independent agency. In addition, 1.6 million people were on active duty in the military last year, down about 10.8 percent from more than 1.8 million in 1992. The military’s own downsizing program began before Clinton took office.

The president hopes to reduce total civilian employment by 8 percent overall by September 1996 to 1.98 million. But the federal payroll nevertheless is expected to rise nearly 2 percent to $117.5 billion.

Reductions are being achieved through attrition, buyouts, layoffs necessitated by last year’s budget cuts, cuts passed by the Republican-controlled Congress this year and the administration’s ``reinventing government″ project.

Vice President Al Gore has headed a campaign to make government more efficient by reorganizing some departments, cutting paperwork, reducing duplication and making regulations less cumbersome. The administration hopes to eliminate the equivalent of 272,000 full-time jobs over five years.

So far, those steps have saved taxpayers at least $63 million, Gore’s office said. And that number could go higher when new estimates later this year.

In perhaps one of the most dramatic reductions, the Geological Survey, the nation’s map maker, this month fired 525 workers, or 23 percent of its employees, in Menlo Park, Denver, Reston, Va., and several smaller field offices. The firings take effect Oct. 13.

Two hundred other workers were either demoted or assigned to new duties.

The slow escalation of salaries had squeezed the amount the agency spent on map making and earth science research down to 5 percent to 10 percent, spokesman William Cannon said. To perform its duties adequately, the agency needs to spend 20 percent to 25 percent on operations, he said.

The layoffs were ``regarded as a management tool of last resort,″ a Geological Survey statement said. ``Belt-tightening tactics such as hiring freezes, buyouts, travel and procurement restrictions and promotion and award freezes have already been aggressively pursued.″

Bonito said agency employees had known for weeks that layoffs were coming, so he had already sent out a round of resumes.

``We’d gone through several phases of this reduction,″ he said. ``Last year and the year before they were offering early-out buyouts to people that were near retirement age. So a lot of people left through that venue. Other people figured, `Well, let’s hang in there and try to see what happens. See if we can survive the tight budget.‴

Bonito plans to remain at the Geological Survey through mid-October, although agency employees have the option of quitting before then. His duties include running a monthly public lecture series, writing an internal newsletter, producing instructional videos and taking geological questions from the public.

``Basically when people call in for information about earthquakes, landslides, floods or they need to talk to somebody about an issue of science or mapping, the telephone operators usually send the call to me first,″ Bonito said.

He is looking for work with companies doing advertising, computer work or graphic arts and wouldn’t mind working for the National Park Service as a park ranger.

Bonito has no children, and his wife of two years has a job.

``I’m going to be depending on her help for a while,″ he said.

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