NASA Glenn Coverage: Contractors in Jeopardy

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For weeks local leaders have been meeting in the Lakewood office of Congressman Dennis Kucinich to formulate a battle plan that will keep NASA Glenn jobs in Cleveland. But for some that effort is already too late.

Philip Campbell: I was a NASA Glenn Research Center contractor for the last four years and two months. We were among the first 35 to be laid off.

Philip Campbell is one of 60 to 80 local NASA Glenn contractors who have already lost their jobs, the result of more than $25 million in Congressional earmarks that have robbed funding from existing Glenn programs. Campbell's work as a skilled technician most recently included testing to return the space shuttle to flight.

Philip Campbell: They developed a new coating to go over the foam that caused the accident - the Challenger - right, as a result of the tests that we performed.

Many Glenn contractors have worked alongside NASA engineers and scientists for years. Some of their work is now orbiting the Earth or on its way to other planets. Now it's their jobs that are leaving.

Philip Campbell: I've got 28 years in the business of aircraft/aerospace. We'll just see how it all turns out. Even if I do wind up leaving here.

Raj Patel is an electrician who worked on the propulsion system for the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter. He was laid off in March. Now he has to break the news to his kids they'll have to scale back plans for college.

Raj Patel: I got three kids in college. My daughter wants to go to law school in August. Now there's a $20,000 fee. We've got to look at some other avenues as how we're going to finance this thing. My younger one, I say why don't you just go to college here?

Currently about 1,300 local contractors work for NASA Glenn. John Morton is project manager for QSS Group, an engineering firm that creates and tests materials used for aeronautics and space. With the de-funding of one of Glenn's major aeronautics programs, Morton has already had to lay off twenty engineers.

John Morton: It is hard to do and harder on the people that it's done to, because the average salary is relatively high - $65,000 a year, somewhere in that neighborhood. If you're the person that's been impacted, then you've been hit hard.

Morton says by the first of April, he may have to lose more workers as the contract they're working on now comes to an end with no new work in sight. But it's next year's NASA budget that has contractors and local communities really concerned. In response to the President's new vision for the agency, NASA has refocused much of its funding on space. Unless Congress makes changes, NASA Glenn is in for program cuts totaling nearly $120 million and the loss of up to 700 civil service jobs.

In the city of Brookpark where the bulk of NASA facilities are located, economic development director Vince Adamus says he's already preparing for a drastic cut in tax revenue.

Vince Adamus: We believe in addition to the 700 civil servants, there may be another 440 contractors that would be impacted as well. Our best guess based on all the civil servants and contractors, we think there may be a total income tax decrease of about $1.8 million due to these hits.

Adamus says the city has put the construction of a new public safety building on hold in anticipation of the loss. While Brookpark will take most of the income tax hit, cities where other NASA facilities and contractors are located will also be affected, among them Fairview Park, North Olmstead and Cleveland. But for Ann Heyward, the potential loss is of even greater scope. Heyward is Vice President of Workforce Enhancement at the Ohio Aerospace Institute, a local non-profit that works to leverage aeronautics and aerospace research in the state.

Ann Heyward: These are people who don't have ready replacement jobs in the region. This means these jobs leave our state, so talk about a brain drain. You're talking about the loss of 1,100 very fine brains going somewhere else in the country.

Heyward says that brain drain would also spell the end of several generations of contractors who have worked at Glenn since it opened in 1941. But the cuts aren't final yet. Congress began federal budget deliberations this week. And while it could take until December before the 2006 budget is passed, the folks at NASA Glenn are hoping to garner new exploration projects that could keep at least some of its contractors in business for years to come. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.

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