Workers at federal agencies in Montgomery County would most likely be affected if proposed spending cuts in President Donald Trump’s federal budget released Thursday were to be implemented.
Trump’s budget outline proposes cuts to several federal agencies headquartered in the county ranging from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Silver Spring to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda.
In total, about 48,000 of the 459,157 jobs in the county are with the federal government—and that number doesn’t include federal contracting jobs based in the county, according to Tina Benjamin, a special projects manager in the county executive’s office.
The impact that Trump’s proposed cuts would have on the number of workers at local agencies is not clear—the budget outline is short on details and doesn’t provide staffing estimates. Despite this, local leaders came out forcefully against the proposal Thursday.
“It’s not a great budget for Montgomery County, given the amount of federal workers we have,” County Council President Roger Berliner said. “The poor, the sick, the planet—the list goes on as to what is imperiled by this budget.”
“The Trump budget is great if you can get on a plane every weekend and fly to Mar-a-Lago, but it stinks for everybody else,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Kensington Democrat, said. “It hurts working Americans and struggling families.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, who represents Maryland’s 8th District, which includes Bethesda and Silver Spring, tweeted that Trump’s budget “trashes the federal workforce across American & right here in #MD08.” He also criticized the proposed funding cuts by saying that if Trump were serious about his campaign promise to put America first, he “wouldn’t slash funding for NIH, the crown jewel of biomedical research.”
County Executive Ike Leggett said Monday before he released his $5.44 billion fiscal 2018 budget proposal that he was deliberately cautious about increasing county spending given the possible federal budget cuts. Significant cuts in the local federal workforce would likely impact the amount of tax revenue collected by the county.
Though local leaders are concerned, it’s not likely that Trump’s proposal will be approved by Congress without significant alterations. On Thursday, several Congressional Republicans told The Washington Post that Trump’s proposed budget has little chance of passing the legislative body in its current form.
According to the proposal, NIH, which is Montgomery County’s largest employer with about 20,000 jobs, is facing a cut of $5.8 billion. That’s about a fifth of the agency’s current budget.
Meanwhile, the proposed budget includes maintaining NOAA’s weather satellites, but a leaked budget memo revealed by The Washington Post reported that Trump’s budget would cut $513 million from the satellite division that’s based in Silver Spring.
Other cuts to the agency include eliminating $250 million in grants the scientific research agency provides to scientists evaluating the health of coastal and marine ecosystems. Trump’s budget outline notes, “These programs are a lower priority than core functions maintained in the budget such as surveys, charting, and fisheries management.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is facing a nearly $5 billion, or 20 percent, budget cut— its Natural Resources Conservation Service is based in Derwood. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) employs about 12,000 people in offices across the country and provides resources to farmers to aid with conservation and teach them about healthy ecosystems.
Trump’s budget plan calls for reducing staffing at the agriculture department’s service center agencies, which includes the NRCS, in part to “encourage private sector conservation planning.”
The budget could even impact $900 million in federal funding that had been requested for the construction of the Purple Line, a 16.2-mile light-rail that would run from Bethesda to New Carrollton. A line in the budget notes only transit projects with full funding agreements in place would receive federal money, but the signing of the Purple Line funding agreement was postponed last August due to an ongoing federal lawsuit and still has not been signed.
The budget plan also calls for the elimination of arts, humanities and community development block grants. That includes the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), an agency with a $155 million budget that Bethesda’s Round House Theatre has received money from in the past.
In a statement released Thursday, Round House Artistic Director Ryan Rilette and Managing Director Ed Zakreski said money from NEA helps fund the Teen Performance Co., a year-round theater training program offered for high school students. The theater described the possible elimination of NEA funds as “devastating to arts organizations around the country.”
There appears to be some good news for at least one local federal agency—The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which received about $3.4 billion in federal funds in 2016 and is based on Choke Cherry Road in Rockville. Trump’s budget calls for $500 million more for the department’s substance abuse treatment programs to address the nation’s growing opioid epidemic.