How will the Federal budget affect Montgomery County?

From The Sentinel:

Jobs are in jeopardy for thousands of federal government employees in Montgomery County, as the Trump administration envisions cuts to locally-based agencies like the National Institutes of Health and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In his 2018 budget blueprint released last month, Trump proposes slashing NIH funding by nearly $6 billion — an 18 percent drop from its current budget of $31 billion. Approximately 17,000 NIH employees and 10,000 of its contractors work in Montgomery County, according to the agency, which makes NIH the county’s largest employer.

In total, approximately 48,000 Montgomery County residents are federal government employees — around 10 percent of the total workforce — and thousands more are federal contractors, according to the county. Many are in danger of losing their jobs if the new president, who campaigned on “draining the swamp” by gutting government spending and reducing the federal workforce, can implement his budget proposal as it is currently written.

Trump’s proposal is far from binding. The budget blueprint primarily serves as a starting point for deliberations and outlines the administration’s vision and ideological priorities. Congress will begin its own budget discussions later this year that will certainly be influenced by White House proposals but do not have to conform.

But if the administration’s budget were implemented as is, thousands of federal employees in the D.C. area would lose their jobs, according to analysis from the Stephen S. Fuller Institute, a George Mason-based research organization that studies the regional economy. The institute found that between 5,500 and 6,000 federal employees working in suburban Maryland would lose their jobs, which would take an estimated $600 million in federal salaries and wages out of the economy.

The analysis meanwhile concludes that the suburban Maryland region would lose $900 million in federal contracts and $100 million in federal grants.

Local leaders are voicing opposition to the proposed budget cuts that would hit the local workforce and economy hard.

Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich called the administration’s proposal “shortsighted” and said, “Any businessman would say this is the wrong thing to do.”

The County Council passed a unanimous resolution condemning the proposal last month.

Elrich stressed the positive impact federal agencies have on local and state economies and criticized Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for his office’s perceived weak response to proposed cuts.

“It’s hard to see how Hogan can’t see how damaging this is to the state,” Elrich said. “His silence speaks volumes. He can’t bring himself to defend science and research, and now jobs and the economy. None of this is healthy.”

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) blasted the budget blueprint, calling it an act of “betrayal.” He and Sen. Ben Cardin (D) sent a letter to the president urging him to reconsider cuts to the NIH, writing, “It is in our national interest that we provide robust federal funding for NIH to ensure that our nation remains at the forefront of global medical research.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8), who represents much of Montgomery County, similarly slammed the budget blueprint, telling the Sentinel last week, “It’s definitely a distressing proposal. These are devastating cuts and a blow to the country.”

NIH historically receives bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, and lawmakers from both parties have already come out opposing the NIH cuts in Trump’s budget.

The budget blueprint also proposes $250 million in cuts to NOAA grants and programs that address coastal and marine management, research and education, arguing “These programs are a lower priority than core functions maintained in the Budget such as surveys, charting and fisheries management.”

The budget is light on details regarding 2018 funding for the Food and Drug Administration, which employs the majority of its 10,000 workers at its Silver Spring headquarters. The president recently proposed cutting $40 million in FDA spending for the current year partly through “slower than anticipated hiring,” but experts say that proposal is unlikely to pass Congress.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency within the Department of Commerce and based in Gaithersburg, is not mentioned in the budget blueprint.

The national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers, slammed the budget blueprint in a news release, arguing “The budget proposal has nothing to do with draining the swamp and everything to do with hurting regular Americans. Starving the very agencies that serve taxpayers every day, in ways big and small, is a cruel opening bid in the annual debate over our federal budget.”

Future funding and staffing levels for federal agencies in Montgomery County will remain uncertain over the next few months. The Trump administration has yet to release its full budget recommendation, which will likely surface in May.

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