Rep. Steny H. Hoyer had both words of reassurance and alarm yesterday for the 1,500 employees of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt who could lose their jobs next year under House-approved budget cuts.
He predicted that the Senate would derail the proposal and, if not, that President Clinton would veto the budget bill in its current form.
"These 1,500 employees don't have to go to sleep worrying whether they will have a job. They will have," Hoyer asserted. But the Maryland Democrat added a caveat: "It's not a slam-dunk done deal. We're concerned, and we want to energize the public as well as ourselves."
To that end, news conferences have been held this week in locations across the country where the National Aeronautics and Space Administration plays a large economic role, to underscore the agency's importance, both scientific and economic.
The publicity barrage came as the House approved a budget bill Thursday that contained cuts in housing and NASA funding. The bill would slice $231 million from Goddard, potentially eliminating 1,500 jobs next year and 1,000 jobs in 2004. Clinton has vowed to veto the measure.
Hoyer, whose 5th Congressional District encompasses parts of eastern Prince George's County as well as Southern Maryland, invited several local politicians and representatives of the private sector to the Goddard Visitors Center to help him make the point.
These included Prince George's County Council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Upper Marlboro), council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie), Del. Joan B. Pitkin (D-Prince George's) and Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis, each of whom spoke about the devastating impact they said the proposed cuts would have not just on the employees but on the economy of the region.
Estepp called Goddard "a key element" in "the prosperity of Prince George's." Not only does it employ 11,700 people on the Greenbelt campus, he and others said, but numerous high-tech firms and local universities also depend on Goddard contracts for research-and-development funds.
The appropriations bill passed by the House would fund NASA at nearly $1 billion less than last year's level. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (Md.) is the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee responsible for the housing, veterans and space budgets.
Hoyer said the bill would cut $50 million from the Earth-observing satellites program, which would allow for the continued collection of data but not analysis and dissemination of information on urban sprawl, rainfall and ozone depletion. He said the cuts would also cancel the launch of the Triana satellite, designed to provide a celestial view of Earth over the Internet.
Goddard programs, Hoyer said, lead "to saved lives and saved dollars. . . . [Hurricane] Dennis is a perfect example, predicting where it is [going] so much earlier. As a kid living in Coconut Grove, Fla., when I was 10 to 15, you didn't get a lot of notice."
Hoyer said he was optimistic that the cuts would not be so severe.
"I think, ultimately, this will not occur," said Hoyer, "but we have to be vigilant."