Originally created 11/10/99

Budget may force SRS layoffs



Savannah River Site officials will attempt today to resolve a budget debate that could result in layoffs at the federal nuclear-weapons site.

Greg Rudy, the U.S. Department of Energy's manager of SRS, and John Pescosolido, the site's chief financial officer, will visit Washington to meet officials from other Energy Department sites. The meeting will address what Mr. Rudy termed "Congressional budget cuts" from an account that pays for some federal employees at SRS.

In an e-mail sent Nov. 4 to federal employees at SRS and obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, Mr. Rudy said Congress made a 10 percent cut from the program direction account in the Energy Department's environmental management division.

The account pays the salaries, training and travel costs, and other expenses for the division's employees, including 456 at SRS.

Energy Department officials will ask Congress to give more money to the account by removing excess funds from other areas, Mr. Rudy wrote. A hiring freeze also was implemented, he wrote.

If more money cannot be found, layoffs of some federal employees will be necessary, said Mr. Rudy. SRS contract employees would not be affected.

Mr. Rudy wrote that he was "cautiously optimistic" that the issue will be resolved.

But U.S. Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., disputed the contention that Congress had cut the budget. The environmental-management division received slightly more money for fiscal 2000 that it did in fiscal 1999, he said.

"I don't like the tenor of the statement," Mr. Graham said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Washington. "Not only is it factually incorrect, it seems to be trying to play politics and excuse-making. It's not justified by budget facts."

The program direction account received about $339.4 million in fiscal 2000, compared to about $337 million in fiscal 1999, said Brad Bugger, an Energy Department spokesman in Washington. Those figures indicate a 0.7 percent increase in the account's funding for fiscal 2000.

Matthew Nerzig, an assistant to Energy Department assistant secretary Carolyn Huntoon, did not return a telephone call seeking an explanation of the reports of a 10 percent budget cut, in light of the apparent increase.

Mr. Rudy was in transit to the nation's capital Tuesday and could not be reached for comment. Tom Heenan, an Energy Department assistant manager at SRS, said site officials have not determined if or when any layoffs would occur, or how many jobs would be lost.

"That's totally a function of what they are trying to work out in Washington," he said.

Mr. Rudy and Mr. Pescosolido will meet with other Energy Department officials to discuss funding needs across the department, Mr. Heenan said.

Reach Brandon Haddock at (706) 823-3409.