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Washington Post

Downsizing Anxiety

Mike Causey
The Federal Diary
The Washington Post, 7/12/96

Despite reengineering and budget cuts, the jobs of most feds are secure for the foreseeable future.

Compared with private-sector upheavals-in which whole companies and pension plans disappear overnight-life with Uncle Sam is relatively good. But enough federal workers have been laid off, or made aware of the dangers of downsizing, that lots of them-old and young-are worried as never before about their futures.

Downsizing agencies-such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration-have stepped up programs to counsel nervous employees. Agencies have alerted supervisors and workers to be on the lookout for co-workers who might be a danger to themselves or office mates. There have been bomb threats-generally unreported to discourage copycat calls-in several agencies. In some agencies, security personnel have had to remove employees or break up fights or arguments. Officials in charge of personnel or employee assistance operations attribute many of the incidents to stress triggered by fear of losing a job.

Federal workers may get through another year without cuts or changes in the pension plan, or additional budget cuts. But agencies are working on new, modified buyout plans, hoping to get employees to take early retirement and otherwise looking at ways to trim their payrolls.

All of that has created a demand for more information about the perils of downsizing and planning for abrupt career changes. Firms such as Government Retirement and Benefits Inc. (Alexandria) and the National Institute of Transition Planning (Rockville) are doing a booming business. They train agencies-and counsel employees-in benefits, rights, layoff rules and the like. Counselor Mark Gorkin has set up a Washington office, "Stress Doc Enterprises," to help lead feds and their agencies through downsizing-related stress.

Hardly a week goes by that some group here doesn't sponsor a conference on downsizing. Next week, the Brookings Institution will launch its newest publication-"Civil Service Reform: Building a Government That Works--on the hot topics of reinvention, staffing and privatization. The Senior Executives Association (202-927-7000) will have a conference, "Leading in Turbulent Times," July 18-19 at the Capital Hilton. Its lineup of speakers includes top experts on job changes.

Federal benefits counselors- once visited only by the about-to-retire-are now popular with younger and mid-career employees who want to know their rights, options and benefits should they get the ax, or be offered a buyout or early retirement.