Area leaders: Congress must act to prevent job losses

ARLINGTON, Va. – Local leaders are crossing party lines in an effort to get Congress to escape a trap it set for itself — automatic spending cuts that could mean the loss of more than 2 million jobs nationally.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., says Congress should cancel its annual August recess to focus on the automatic, across-the-board cuts that would affect defense and other federal contractors.

The cuts — set to occur because a bipartisan panel failed to come up with a plan to cut the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years — would be effective Jan. 2, 2013.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who often calls for budget cuts, is among those asking Congress to take action now to prevent the cuts.

“As many as 122,500 Virginians could be affected negatively and lose their jobs,” McDonnell says.

The Defense Department faces cuts that would trim $500 billion in projected national security spending over the next decade. Plus, the Pentagon is working to slice another $487 billion that’s part of last year’s Budget Control Act.

“In as little as 2 1/2 months, virtually every defense contractor in America is going to have to make a decision about sending out notices under the Warren Act and tell you whether or not you’ve got a job,” McDonnell says.

Connolly says the impact could be the greatest in Northern Virginia.

“The job loss potential, if this in fact goes into effect, is almost as great on the civilian side as it is on the defense side,” says Connolly.

With just 10 days before Congress takes its recess, Connolly says both sides of the aisle need to take action before the November elections.

An analysis done by George Mason University for the Aerospace Industries Association finds more than 2.14 million jobs nationally could be lost if the automatic cuts occur, a process known on Capitol Hill as “sequestration.”

Behind California, Virginia stands to lose the most jobs if the cuts take effect. When defense and non-defense cuts are taken into account, the analysis says Virginia would lose 207,571 jobs. Texas, D.C. and Maryland round out the top five for total job losses, with D.C. losing 127,407 defense and non-defense jobs and Maryland losing 114,795 jobs.

McDonnell wants a compromise. He said the nation has to get its fiscal house in order.

“It’s got to be in a way that is systematic, that is practical, that looks out for the American war fighter and the men and women of the private sector that support them. That’s not the way this was done,” said McDonnell, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department, in a letter to federal contractors, said federal contractors do not have to warn workers about potential layoffs, saying such a move would be speculative.

But major contractors are concerned about the long-term impacts of the cuts.

In an interview with The Washington Business Journal, John Jumper, chief executive officer of McLean-based SAIC Inc., said sequestration would damage the region’s ability to attract and keep workers.

“As these contracts get delayed – contracts that led us to bring on a workforce in anticipation of the awards – jobs are in jeopardy. And we do have to let them go out of necessity,” Jumper said. “It makes the workforce very uneasy. Then what that leads to, is [other employees] that say, ‘I have an opportunity to go over here, and I’m going to take it before my turn comes.’ When that talent vanishes, it’s hard to build it back up.”

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WTOP’s Hank Silverberg and Colleen Kelleher contributed to this report. Follow Hank, Colleen and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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