WASHINGTON -- No one would mistake Mantua, a leafy section of Northern Virginia's Fairfax County where houses sell in the $700,000 range, for a factory town, but where Jenny Foo lives, almost everyone's paycheck comes from the same place.
Ms. Foo, who spent her career at the State Department, lives across from someone who worked at the Food and Drug Administration and another who had a career with the U.S. Geological Survey and just up from a couple of military families. Around the corner, there's a National Park Service historian, a Pentagon analyst and a Foreign Service diplomat.
In Mantua -- 14 miles west of Washington's Federal Triangle area, which has offices of several government agencies -- the sledgehammer of budget cuts that hit Friday are a threat to financial stability, an unnecessary reminder of a political system that seems unable to solve problems and, perhaps worst of all, a symbol of how dramatically perceptions of government work have shifted.
For most of their lives, federal workers in Mantua say, having "United States Treasury" atop their paycheck meant security, pride and a sense of mission. Things change: Now, it means having to defend yourself against arguments, from strangers and even from your own relatives, that you're an overpaid and underworked leech.
Some federal workers are bothered by the growing sense that the careers they chose may now seem unattractive, even unworthy. For the college-educated of Mantua, the federal government was a place to put their smarts to work in service of country. But many of their children have decided that government work isn't worth the aggravation. Ms. Foo's son scrapped public service after a government summer internship; he works for Dell now. Her daughter is a teacher overseas.
"I don't know if people will want to go into the government, the way it's thought of now," Ms. Foo said. "For us in the '70s, it was about security and availability."
Even those workers who don't expect to take a direct hit are feeling the pain of the automatic cuts that Congress set up in a failed effort to get themselves to address the nation's budget woes.
"My understanding is that there's no impact on my employment this year," said Raymond Won, an engineering manager at the Energy Department's Office of Science, the nation's largest supporter of the basic research in physical sciences that can result in innovations in the private sector. "But there's immediate impact on the work I do. What sequestration is doing is preventing the start on new-generation equipment that will create the next wave of American jobs."