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Feeling Frozen

Yesterday I opened up PilotOnline to the article titled Effect of Trump’s job freeze in Hampton Roads is uncertain. It might be one of those articles that only effects you… if it affects you. (I think I just used those two words correctly!) But, this freeze took me down memory lane, because I remember when a freeze changed the course of my life.

A February 10, 1981 article in the New York Times gives a little background on the time when President Reagan put a Federal hiring freeze into effect. The freeze was the first official action that Reagan took, following his inauguration as President. It followed some of his campaign rhetoric, that he intended to balance the Federal budget when elected President.

During the fall of 1980, I was working as a legislative aide for Congressman William G. Whitehurst, in his Norfolk, Virginia, constituent office. I had started as a full time intern during the previous summer, and had transitioned to a 20-hour-per-week position during my junior year of college. As an intern at the time, I was earning the “intern salary” of $200 per week. Not considered much now… not considered much then!

I received a raise to $300 per week, when I became a “real Congressional aide” and left behind my intern status. I should mention that the pay included free hot dogs at the cafeteria on the second floor of the Federal Building. But that would be a hot dog falsehood. I had to pay for the hot dogs in money and pounds! It was part of my ritual of running from class, stopping off at the cafeteria, and then hustling to the 7th floor Congressional office every day; after finishing my morning college classes. When I think about it now, I don’t miss those lunch time hot dogs and I don’t miss that schedule of a working student!

Sometime after the November Presidential election and before Reagan took office, the Congressman’s office manager called me in to her office. Rena Wasserman was one of those ladies with contacts all over Tidewater. And, she knew that I wanted to go to law school. She told me that she had lined up a job interview for me, down at the Federal Court clerk’s office, in downtown Norfolk.

I don’t remember the exact particulars, but soon I was hired and I was supposed to start at the Federal Court Clerk’s office in the new year. I enjoyed the work of a Congressional aide, but working at the Federal Courthouse seemed like a dream job for someone intending to go to law school. Plus, I think I was hired as a GS-7. I am a little unclear on that now, but I remember that I would be earning a bit more than my Congressional aide position. And that was good news too!

The month of that December’s news was filled with stories that included Reagan’s promise that when he took office, he was going to implement a hiring freeze. Not that disconcerting to me, since I had already been hired. The month of December was exciting as I finished up my work at the Congressional office. I would only be a few blocks down the street in my new position.

Then it happened. A few days before I was to start at the clerk’s office, I received the call. I remember sitting at my Congressional office desk. The Federal clerk told me that my offer of employment was no longer available. Not only had President Reagan issued an executive order to freeze hiring, but he had also made it retroactive to all hires since November 5. He “reached back” into the months when he was President-elect. And I had been hired after November 5.

I sat stunned at my desk. Thankfully, Mrs. Wasserman had not yet hired my replacement. I still had my Congressional aide job… gladly!

I often wonder where life would have taken me, if I had gone to work in the Federal Courthouse. Would I have gone to a different law school? Would I have focused my practice into Federal Court? Or, would I now be a Supreme Court Justice? (OK, I know the answer to number 3. Not so much!) Or, would I have become disillusioned with law and abandoned law school plans to now be selling vitamins door-to-door? (Not so much either, I think)

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When I see that President Trump has issued a hiring freeze, I can respect the fact that the intent is based in trying to be fiscally sound. But, it also means that lives are impacted… and changed.

And for pic o’ day, something to ponder?

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Or maybe I should just wonder why this cat looks like it’s holding a gun in the tree, and not look back in life!!

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