These are tough times for the nation's space program. As Congress moves to balance the budget, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration stands to take a big hit and Maryland is going to feel the pain.
It's too soon to make any predictions on how much Congress will slash from NASA's budget in the next few weeks, but no one doubts that the cuts will far exceed what the Clinton administration and NASA officials had anticipated.
It is also clear that NASA will be forced to eliminate far more jobs than those announced a week ago to meet the administration's plan to reduce the agency's budget by $5 billion over the next five years.
To reach the president's goal, NASA officials have said they would be forced to eliminate 28,000 jobs across the country, including about 2,000 at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.
The cuts would be much more severe under a House proposal to reduce NASA's budget by nearly $11 billion. NASA officials say the job losses will double with perhaps as many as 8,000 positions at Goddard being eliminated. Goddard has about 13,000 employees. More than 11,000 are in Maryland.
These workers would fare better under a Senate plan approved Thursday that earmarks $7 billion in cuts, but there would still be more jobs eliminated than with the administration's plan.
No one is certain how the differences in the House and Senate plans will be worked out, but Rep. Constance A. Morella said the final figure will likely come out somewhere in the middle. Mrs. Morella, a Republican from Montgomery County, is a member of the House Science Committee that oversees NASA's budget. The bulk of Maryland's space industry is clustered around the Capital Beltway and the Interstate 270 high-technology corridor that falls within her district.
"The Senate is going to have to give in a little, and the House is going to have to come down," Mrs. Morella said.
This does not bode well for Maryland, one of the few states with a large concentration of space-related companies, due primarily to the presence of Goddard, one of NASA's main space centers.
The Maryland Space Round Table, a Rockville-based trade organization, estimates that 750 Maryland companies, employing tens of thousands of workers, are involved in some aspect of space industry work.
And these companies are in for a difficult time as their primary customer -- NASA -- adjusts to huge reductions in government spending.
"It is hard to gauge the effect [of the NASA budget cuts] on the private sector," Mrs. Morella said, "but a lot of companies doing ,, business with Goddard are going to have to look for other ways to generate business."
Bruce Montgomery, senior director of an Orbital Sciences Corp. plant in Greenbelt that makes electrical components for use in spacecraft, said companies have been cutting employees for several years, but more cuts will be necessary.
Although no one knows the precise number of jobs in Maryland tied to the space industry, Mr. Montgomery estimates that 25 percent of the people currently working in the space industry will lose their jobs over the next three to four years.
"There is no question there is going to be some pain here," said James T. Brady, secretary of the Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development. "There is no question there are going to be some massive changes in the current situation that are going to cause an alarming number of people to be looking for something else to do."
"Maryland is going to get hit very hard if the House Budget Committee gets its way," said Janice M. Bellucci, vice president of the Space Round Table.
"People in the industry are in shock," she said. "They were expecting budget reductions. They know they need to be made, but nobody expected the deep reductions proposed by the House."
Ms. Bellucci fears the result will be similar to what happened in the late 1960s when sharp budget cuts in the aerospace industry forced highly-trained people to accept jobs driving taxis and pumping gas.
Anirban Basu, an economist with the University of Baltimore's regional economic studies program, said the elimination of 2,000 jobs at Goddard would be a blow to Maryland's economy.
"The reason it will hurt so much," he said, "is that many of the people earn good salaries, many of them earn well over $50,000 a year."
Mr. Basu said Maryland is already lagging behind the nation in creating high-wage jobs.
Mrs. Morella said it will be up to the state to soften the impact.
"Jim Brady is going to have to get out there and be more aggressive in luring new business to the area. He is going to have to be more aggressive in retaining the companies that are already here," she said.
Joseph H. Rothenberg, the acting director of Goddard, said the space center could not absorb the cuts proposed by the House without cutting major programs.