Originally created 12/20/97

SRS budget keeps jobs awhile



President Clinton's fiscal 1999 budget for Savannah River Site will contain enough money to keep everybody at the plant employed for another year and a half, U.S. Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., announced Friday.

The Energy Department has also decided to cancel plans to eliminate 23 federal jobs at SRS within the next few months, the senator said.

Negotiations this week among Mr. Hollings' staff, the Energy Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget resulted in an additional $118 million for SRS and the Hanford Reservation nuclear station in Washington state, said Maury Lane, a spokesman for the senator.

"While this is the first step in a long, 10-month process, we are moving closer to ensuring that the fiscal 1999 funding remains at an appropriate level," Mr. Hollings said in a prepared statement.

Congressional sources had expressed concern that Mr. Clinton's budget for the fiscal year that begins next October would be another blow to SRS, which has laid off 10,000 workers in the past five years.

The South Carolina nuclear defense plant is awaiting word on new missions officials say would stabilize employment and give it a future beyond post-Cold War cleanup. During his first visit to SRS this week, Energy Secretary Federico Pena said he was sensitive to concerns that SRS would lose too many skilled employees due to budget cuts.

This past summer, Congress restored two-thirds of a $118 million cut President Clinton had proposed for SRS this fiscal year.

But U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said it would be hard to convince the fiscally conservative House leadership to boost funding for SRS operations again.

"We have to get DOE to craft a budget that's stable," he said this week. "I told the secretary, `Your budget has to reflect your speech.' "

Mr. Clinton is expected to present his fiscal 1999 budget in late January or early February. It's then up to the House and Senate to formulate their own budget proposals before hammering out a compromise some time late in the summer.

"The South Carolina delegation's congressional members need to provide ample funds to DOE to ensure that the cleanup of the site continues at an appropriate pace, new missions for the site are found and current employment levels are kept stable," Mr. Hollings said.