U.S. to renew pact with physics lab

November 30, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer

The federal government is set to renew its more than $400 million annual contract with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, which will preserve 2,800 jobs at Howard County's largest private employer.

The laboratory, or APL, is expected to secure the contract with the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command this week, Helen Worth, a lab spokeswoman, said yesterday. The Navy supplies 98 percent of APL's funds.

Because the contract will be signed two months after the lab's prior contract with the Navy expired, there were some concerns among employees that APL might be planning job cuts or a resumption of an early-retirement offer to some employees.

But Ms. Worth said such fears were unfounded -- just an "ugly rumor."

"Because the contract this time is two months later, some people got a little nervous. But we have had this relationship with the Navy for over 50 years," Ms. Worth said. "We were not worried. Management was not worried. We have no plans for cutbacks."

Ms. Worth said that APL's past contract talks with the Navy often extended a month past the expiration of contracts. The additional delay in this case resulted from negotiations with the Navy about whether certain projects would be funded in the coming year, she said.

In the new contract for 1995, the Navy will cut $11 million from the $440 million it paid APL in 1994. But Ms. Worth said that relatively small cut would not affect the size of the lab's work force -- though she added that APL may end up eliminating some research projects.

"It shouldn't result in any major changes here," Ms. Worth said. "We don't spend all of the [Navy's] money each year, anyway. The $429 million [in the 1995 contract] is the maximum amount we can spend. It's just a ceiling."

Word of the impending contract signing was welcomed. "They're a good corporate citizen. We want to see them do well," said recently elected state Del. Shane Pendergrass, a Democrat whose 13A District includes APL. "We need the jobs in the county."

APL's million-square-foot facility sits on 365 acres off Johns Hopkins Road, just south of Columbia and west of U.S. 29. It has been based in Howard County since 1954, after a move from Silver Spring.

The lab has been known has a national resource for defense and satellite studies since 1942 when it developed for the Navy a fuse used in anti-aircraft shells.

In Howard County, only the public school system, with 3,200 workers, employs more people than APL.

The federal government has paid APL more than $400 million annually in recent years.

The lab two years ago cut about 35 positions and about 100 other jobs were left vacant after early retirements, but APL has avoided major layoffs.

With the new $429 million contract with the Navy, workers at APL will conduct 250 different projects, including submarine research, fleet research and air missile research.

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