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Federal Workers Ordered Off Job : Impasse: Government offices, park facilities and services shut down across the county as budget talks falter. Port Hueneme base suffers the single biggest furlough.

November 15, 1995|JEFF McDONALD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Hundreds of supply clerks, computer processors and other civilian employees at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Port Hueneme were ordered off the job Tuesday, just some of the Ventura County victims of a federal budget impasse 3,000 miles away.

In Thousand Oaks, Navy recruiters slouched around a rented office, unable to use the phones or do anything else that might run up a bill. At the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley, about 20 archivists were abruptly sent home.

The sudden shutdown of nonessential federal services closed dozens of government offices across the county and inconvenienced thousands of residents and tourists.

Members of a fifth-grade class from Camarillo were lucky: They were the last to tour the Channel Islands National Park visitors center at Ventura Harbor. Rangers hung their heads as they turned tourists away.

"I'm disappointed that an agreement couldn't be made," said Suzan Brown, a park service assistant taping up "Closed Until Further Notice" signs at the visitors center.

"We as park service employees aren't able to do our jobs."

With 10,500 federal employees scattered across the county, the single biggest furlough was at the Port Hueneme base, which lost 830 of its 1,230 civilian workers.

"A lot of the normal work is just on hold and not getting done," said base spokeswoman Linda Wadley. "The mood is in anticipation of getting an approved budget and getting people back to work."

Marge Hays at the Point Mugu Navy base said officials there have enough carry-over funds to pay their 3,000 civilian workers for weeks.

The shutdown "does affect people as far as some travel and purchasing," she said. "But we have enough funding to hold us for a couple of pay periods."

Post office workers, FBI agents and other "essential" government employees operated as usual Tuesday.

But at the Internal Revenue Service office in Oxnard, customer service representative Mark Vogel was told to leave work at noon. Now he is worried about getting paid.

"It'll probably only last a day or two, so I assume we'll get back pay," he said. "But it could be that we won't."

Local IRS supervisor Ed Broderick said all but a handful of his 95 employees were sent away. Perhaps half a dozen would remain to open mail, make deposits and continue criminal investigations.

"Only the very basic stuff," he said.

Navy recruiter David Humes said the landlord of his small Thousand Oaks office told him not to transact business inside the building until the impasse was settled. Instead, his superiors told him to simply hand out Navy leaflets to young men and women.

"I guess I'm on vacation for a while," Humes said.

Among taxpayers interviewed Tuesday, the response to the budget impasse was mixed. Steam-cleaner Rick Ulrich said it is about time the government drew the line with federal spending.

"I have to balance my budget," said the Camarillo parent, who accompanied his child to the Channel Islands visitors center field trip. "There's no reason the government shouldn't have to balance theirs.

"If [shutting down services] is what it takes . . . then that's what it takes," he said.

But a balanced federal spending plan was of little use to Jay Porter, an Oxnard security consultant with a new job.

Tuesday afternoon he walked through the door of the Ventura Social Security office, seeking proof for his new employers that he was legally entitled to work.

"I think it's ridiculous," he said, realizing the office was closed and snorting his disgust at federal lawmakers from both parties. "There should be some general agreement on the policies of the government."

Rep. Elton Gallegly, the Republican from Simi Valley, said he regrets the immediate effects of the government shutdown on citizens like Porter. But he said it is necessary.

"That's a crisis and I understand that," Gallegly said. "But quite frankly, I'm much more concerned about the effect the budget is going to have on all Americans.

"That may sound simplistic, but that's what this debate is all about," he said.

Mortgage brokers who rely on federal loans to sell houses said the work stoppage would only inhibit their business if it lasts into next week.

The applications "are functional as long as you've got your loan in the system," said Sue Heldt, operations manager at Medallion Mortgage Co., the largest federal loan processor in Ventura.

Not all federal employees left their posts Tuesday. Many workers performed their duties even though they may never be paid.

At the Channel Islands visitors center, Ranger Tom Dore crafted a hand-sized concrete replica of Santa Rosa Island for future use in an elementary school classroom.

"It's got to be done by Friday," he said. "We'll be open by then, won't we?"

Other government workers, however, were not so enthusiastic.

"Most of my employees feel like they're pawns in a big game," said Rashi Tyagi, a supervisor at the Camarillo office of the Minerals Management Service, which stopped issuing oil drilling permits Tuesday.

"Many of them do feel very essential, so they don't feel very good about being furloughed," Tyagi said.

Paul and Marion Berger of Rancho Palos Verdes were dumbfounded to be turned away from the Reagan library.

"I'm not going to bother to come back," Marion Berger said.

Times staff writer Joanna M. Miller, correspondent Scott Hadly and photographers Anne Cusack and Carlos Chavez contributed to this story.

* RELATED STORIES: A1, A12, A13, A15, A16

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