More than 100 Aberdeen Proving Ground contractors to be laid off

More than 100 contractors to lose APG positions.

More than 100 workers are expected to be laid off this month from a major military contractor at Aberdeen Proving Ground, according to military officials.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., a California-based company and one of Harford County's biggest employers, is cutting about 104 contractor positions at the base because of a decrease in workload and operational budget, said Andricka Thomas, a spokeswoman for U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command.

Officials with Jacobs Engineering declined to comment.

The layoffs are happening amid a dwindling in military contracts, as the U.S. winds down its presence in Iraq and Afghanistan and as deep spending reductions approved by Congress in 2011 continue while Washington focuses on belt-tightening.

"We can't forecast what may happen from this point forward," Harford County spokeswoman Cindy Mumby said. "There is an ebb and flow to government contracts, and of course, government budgets are having an impact."

Bruce England, executive director of the Susquehanna Workforce Network, said his group has been contacted by local representatives of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, which represents many of those workers affected. His organization is scheduling a meeting to provide information about unemployment benefits, new job possibilities and training opportunities.

England said he is not aware of layoffs at other firms. Union leaders did not respond to requests for comment.

Contracts awarded through Aberdeen Proving Ground Contracting Command fell about 11 percent from $13.6 billion in 2013 to $12.1 billion in fiscal 2014, which ended in September.

Of that funding, about $1.3 billion went to firms performing work in Maryland, down about 13 percent from the $1.5 billion in fiscal 2013, said Betsy J. Kozak-Howard, a program analyst at Army Contracting Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Contracting dollars also went to firms working in states such as Virginia, California and Massachusetts.

Aberdeen Proving Ground contracting peaked in 2009 at $21.9 billion after the consolidation of other military installations at the base. The dollar figures have declined since, in part because of more competitive award procedures, Kozak-Howard said.

Jacobs, which drew nearly 20 percent of its revenue from the federal and foreign governments in 2014, has had an ongoing contract at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Test Center since 2008, providing support services such as vehicle performance, soldier protection equipment, lab tests and other tasks.

More than $13 million was "de-obligated" from the firm's work orders in 2014, Kozak-Howard said. Those cuts were to remove excess funding from the contract and are unrelated to the current layoffs, she said.

Jacobs had more than 800 people on the payroll in Harford County in 2012, according to figures collected by Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. The most recent contract with the military at Aberdeen Proving Ground accounted for between 600 and 650 people before the layoffs, Thomas said.

The firm employs more than 65,000 people around the world.

Barney Michel, a board member and past president of the Army Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for the Aberdeen Proving Ground installation, said the layoffs aren't necessarily indicative of broader cuts to come.

"There has been a certain amount of downsizing of work … with the course of the budget reductions, but this is not a sign of anything larger, other than the normal up and down of our defense spending," he said.

The military is considering its next round of base closures and realignments, a process that could result in the reduction of more than 4,000 military and civilian positions at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Meetings this winter have drawn hundreds of people seeking more information about the decision-making process. The next updates from the military are still several weeks away.

Current Army Alliance president Jill McClune said she believes APG is well positioned, thanks to its emphasis on research and development, but the budget climate will likely still have an impact.

"Research and development is going to be an area they still invest in, but it would be naive to think that APG wouldn't see some impacts of the budget," she said.

nsherman@baltsun.com

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