McKeon Visits Space Station Project : Production: Freshman congressman cites need to save jobs. Contractor Rocketdyne faces uncertain future due to recent budget cuts.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With hundreds of jobs and billions of dollars in contracts at stake, Rocketdyne officials rolled out the red carpet for a U. S. congressman Tuesday at production facilities for the Space Station Freedom.

"We need to do everything we can to hold on to jobs . . . this particular space station is one way to do that," said Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), following a two-hour tour of Rocketdyne, which has been contracted to build the space station's electrical power system.

McKeon, a freshman congressman, does not sit on any committees with direct oversight on science and technology issues but last month did vote against an amendment to kill the space station entirely. Rocketdyne is located in his district, which sprawls from the western San Fernando Valley to the Antelope Valley.

With a vastly scaled-down version of NASA's space station supported by President Clinton, the Rocketdyne division of Rockwell International now finds itself in competition with two other aerospace giants for additional contractor work. The project has employed 11,000 so far nationwide.

Experts predict one-third of those jobs will be cut. For Rocketdyne, which holds $2.4 billion in contracts, that could mean laying off about 330 of 1,300 employees assigned to build the station's electrical power system, company officials said. Statewide the project generates 4,260 jobs and this year will produce $580 million in government contracts, Rocketdyne officials said.

Last month Clinton cut billions from the original budget of the station, which is the largest multinational space project in history and includes efforts by the United States, Canada, Japan, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Norway and Denmark.

As a result, the fate of the project's three major contractors, including Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, McDonnell Douglas Aerospace in Huntington Beach and Boeing Co.'s missile and space division in Huntsville, Ala., hang in the balance as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration develops a final design for the space station and chooses a single prime contractor. The chosen company is likely to retain a larger portion of its work force.

However, George Hallinan, a Rocketdyne vice president and program manager, noted that the electrical power system Rocketdyne has been contracted to build is a "high priority" for the project, and thus might stave off cuts to his company.

The loss of more aerospace jobs would be adding "insult to injury" to the local economy, said Michael Beltramo, president of Beltramo & Associates, a Los Angeles-based consulting group that specializes in defense and aerospace industries. Beltramo, in a telephone interview, noted the recent spate of economic blows to the San Fernando Valley economy, including the planned shutdown of Hughes Aircraft Co.'s missile design plant in Canoga Park, which employs 1,900 people.

"You've already cut muscle and now you're cutting the bone when you cut space programs," Beltramo said. "You save one major contract for a Hughes or a Rocketdyne and you've saved a whole bunch of small businesses with it."

In addition to providing jobs, Hallinan said that the project would help the United States maintain a technological edge over its global competitors.

"It has a pay-back . . . that makes major contributions to the well-being of our country," Hallinan said.

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