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NASA Glenn to Downsize

Last Monday, outgoing NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe laid out his 2006 budget, the second since President Bush charged the space agency with a new mission. Under that budget, the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland will lose two of its major aeronautics programs, along with funding and staff. It's not the first time the research facility has seen major cutbacks. In the mid-1990's across-the-board cuts to the agency saw Glenn's budget and workforce shrink. But Ziona Austrian, director of the Center for Economic Development at Cleveland State University's Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs says today's cuts are no less dramatic. Austrian authored two studies of NASA Glenn's economic impact, one in 1994 and another in '98.

Ziona Austrian: In '94, NASA revenues one-billion, 39-million. And by '98 there was $699 million. In 2004, the revenues were $637 million and now they're talking about going all the way down to 519. So we're really talking almost cutting it by half if you compare it to '94.

But it isn't just NASA Glenn that will be affected. In 1998, Austrian says the total output of goods and services from work associated with NASA Glenn was $879 million. About a third of that was spent directly in Northeast Ohio on work like that of contractor Steve Nemets, an engineer with QSS Group, which until recently provided engineering support services to Glenn.

Steve Nemets: You know, I've worked for NASA for 19 years. It's a great place to work. I'm going to be laid off Tuesday. And I'm not sure what we're going to do.

Heidi Nemets: We have three daughters - age 6 to 13. All three girls, I heard them go up the stairs. All three went in their rooms, tried to pull their allowance money together.

At a summit last Friday organized by Congressman Dennis Kucinich to fight the NASA Glenn downsizing, Steve and his wife Heidi were just two of the people who talked about the real impact to Northeast Ohio's economy. Mark Elliott, mayor of Brook Park where NASA is located, says along with contractors' jobs, there's the loss of tax revenue to local communities.

Mark Elliott: We don't know what the impact of the contractors would be. We know the 700 employees, but the contract number is still somewhat unknown.

And then there's the potential loss of millions of dollars in research grants to colleges and universities around the state. James McGuffin-Cawley is Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs for the Engineering School at Case. He's says it's not just about the money.

James McGuffin-Cawley: We're very closely related. There are people at NASA who are current greaduate students at Case. There are graduate students and undergraduates and also high school students hwo are working in the laboratories over at Lewis.

Even public schools could be affected. According to the Cleveland State study, Glenn received more money than any other NASA center in 1998 for education programs for grades K-12.

But the deep cuts may not become a reality. Last year, Ohio's Congressional delegation was able to re-fund reductions to Glenn's 2005 budget. Senator Mike DeWine says he's on board with other federal lawmakers to affect the budgetary process.

Mike DeWine: You do it the way you do everything else in Congress and that is through the purse strings and through the money. And you know, we do it through the appropriations process.

Other are organizing as well. Governor Taft has written a letter to the President asking for reconsideration of the Glenn budget. Cuyahoga County Commissioner Jimmy Dimora has offered to exert his influence through an existing organization formed to help keep defense jobs in the region. Others will gather support from the national aeronautics and aviation community, many of whom have benefited from NASA Glenn research.

But NASA Glenn employee Paul Senick suggests there's another approach to keeping Glenn's assets in Northeast Ohio. Senick is (a) project manager for the center's Office of New Exploration.

Paul Senick: This is all being done too fast. What we need to do as we pull Ohio together to do this is to not cry and whine about what's being lost here, but what we can contribute to the nation and to this exploration to the moon and to Mars.

NASA Glenn will have the opportunity to bid on new projects against the agency's other nine national research labs. But timing will be key. The Cleveland center is planning a job fair in the next few weeks to see if some workers will want to transfer to other labs. In the meantime, organizers in Northeast Ohio say they'll meet frequently in the coming weeks to focus their support for Glenn where it will have the greatest impact. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3.