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Md. firm part of White House push on highways

As President Barack Obama Wednesday called on Congress to pass a transportation funding bill next month, he also named two employees of a Sparks-based engineering firm whose jobs could be affected by the legislative effort.

Adam Vencill and Chris Negley, both senior inspectors for KCI Technologies, stood on stage with Obama during the Rose Garden event as examples of transportation workers who could be furloughed if lawmakers fail to advance a highway bill by Sept. 30.

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Weeks after Congress left Washington without extending funding for the Federal Aviation Administration – a move that put thousands of government employees and contractors out of work – Obama pressed lawmakers to find a compromise on highway funding to avoid a similar showdown.

"If we don't extend this bill by the end of September, all of them will be out of a job -- just because of politics in Washington," Obama said, citing Vencill and Negley by name. "And that's just not acceptable… It's inexcusable to put more jobs at risk in an industry that's already been one of the hardest hit over the last decade. "

KCI Technologies, founded in 1955, has more than 850 employees, about half of whom are based in Maryland, said CEO Terry F. Neimeyer. The company performs engineering and inspection services for state, federal and private transportation projects, he said.

"If Sept. 30 rolls around and they don't reauthorize this, they would turn these projects off ," said Neimeyer, who is also the chairman of the American Council of Engineering Companies, the industry's national lobbying arm. "In doing so, we would take these actively employed, taxpaying, good people and make them temporarily unemployed. That isn't good for anyone."

Transportation groups are pushing Congress for a long-term highway funding bill after years of stop-gap extensions. But when lawmakers return to Washington next month, they will have only a few weeks to broker a compromise. The House and Senate are considering widely different bills.

A major sticking point is the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal tax on gasoline that is used to pay for the construction projects.

Maryland officials have said they would need to consider halting some construction projects if the funding appeared to be in jeopardy. Maryland receives roughly $45 million a month in federal highway funds.

For Vencill, a Harford County resident, attending the event was a chance to make a political statement – but was also just a "cool experience." Before attending the event, KCI employees and others met with Obama briefly in the Oval Office, he said.

"He shook our hands and told us how much he appreciates our work," said Vencill, 25. The legislation, Vencill said, will "have a big impact on our lives."

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