Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Site here to control nuclear cleanups

125 jobs coming

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The cleanup of former nuclear energy sites from Washington state to South Carolina will soon be managed from a federal office in Cincinnati, bringing about 125 jobs to the area, U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said Monday.

The department's new Consolidated Business Center is part of a reorganization of the Department of Energy to centralize the department's environmental management activities. Each year, the government spends $7 billion to clean up 38 former nuclear processing sites such as Fernald in Crosby Township.

With that list changing each year as projects are closed and others are added to the list, it makes sense to centralize accounting, human resources and information technology in Cincinnati, Abraham said.

"It will allow us the do the job better, more efficiently and at greater savings to the American taxpayer," he said.

Abraham's announcement came during a one-hour fly-in visit to Cincinnati's Lunken Airport, hosted by U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, and attended by members of the Greater Cincinnati and Clermont County chambers of commerce.

The department hopes to have the office open within nine months, but a specific site hasn't been determined. It could be downtown or suburban, in an existing federal office building or leased commercial space, Abraham said. Portman's presence - and the presence of Clermont County business leaders - suggested that it's likely to be on the east side, in Portman's 2nd Congressional District.

Abraham, however, denied that politics played a part in the decision. If anything, the former Michigan senator joked that he had personal reasons to locate the office here. His mother was born in Ohio.

"I don't want to give the impression that there's a bias, but a certain fondness exists," he said.

Abraham, the first of three high-level Bush administration officials scheduled to visit Cincinnati Monday and today, said Cincinnati won out over about 300 American cities under consideration. There were 17 finalists.

Ohio's history of being a leading Cold War center of uranium production and the proximity of Energy Department facilities at Fernald, Piketon and Paducah, Ky., played a small part in the department's decision to locate here, Abraham said. The bigger factors were the overall quality of life and the international airport, he said. "It's a wonderful place, in our judgment."

The jobs will pay an average of $70,000 - "the kind of high-paying, high-technology jobs we need in this region," said Portman, who also touted the spin-off benefits to the economy should Energy Department contractors open offices here.

The federal government is already an important source of jobs in Cincinnati, one of the smallest of the 28 cities outside of Washington deemed a "major center of government activity" under a 43-year-old executive order.

With more than 14,000 employees in the region, the federal government is the area's second-largest employer after the University of Cincinnati, according to the Cincinnati Federal Executive Board. About 4,800 of those jobs are at the Internal Revenue Service's processing center in Covington.

E-mail gkorte@enquirer.com

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