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As federal sequestration looms Friday, business executives say they need a decision as soon as possible from Congress on spending cuts so they can figure out how to respond, rather than deal with continual delays.

That was their message Monday to U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), who held a roundtable discussion on the impact of sequestration, the $85 billion in budget cuts that will begin taking effect Friday unless Congress and the White House act this week. The gathering was held at the Prince George’s Economic Development Corp. offices in Largo.

Maryland’s contracting companies and workforce stand to be hit by the cuts, as the state hosts 60 federal facilities and 17 military installations, Cardin said. Base operation funding at Maryland’s Army and Air Force installations faces $105 million in cuts.

But business leaders said that the longer Congress forestalls such cuts into fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30, the less time their companies will have to make up for the resulting contract losses, which many believe are inevitable.

“You do us no favors by pushing things back unless there’s a solid way to fix this,” said Timothy J. Adams, CEO of contractor Satech in Largo.

Congressional delays might mean contractors would have only five months instead of seven to make their own spending cuts, which could result in the loss of jobs, he said.

“This country is a surviving country. If we know what to do, we can respond. What we can’t respond to is the unknown,” agreed Susan Ballard Hirsch, president of Government Services Integrated Process Team in Largo.

She also chided Congress for being able to miss its own deadlines without financial consequences when such incompetence could cost a business a contract. Others said members of Congress should be forced to take a pay cut when they miss deadlines.

Adams also emphasized accountability should the sequestration occur, saying people need to know who was responsible for letting matters reach this point.

Cardin tried to reassure the executives that the state’s congressional delegation is united in working for a substitute for sequestration, including tax hikes for those with more than $1 million in personal income and phased-in military cuts as U.S. soldiers return from Afghanistan. He also said Congress’ best option is try to deal with sequestration, the budget and the expiring debt ceiling around the same time so it does not have to keep coming back to these issues.

Andre Rogers, CEO of Enlightened in Washington, D.C., said sequestration would force him to fire workers. But he agreed with Hirsch and Adams, saying if Congress cannot figure out alternatives, it should let the cuts happen.

“The innovation within this room can figure out a way to deal with it,” Rogers said.

Cardin said stories such as Rogers’ are important to help “put a face on” the issue.

“As painful as a bad decision will be, it’s better than no decision at all,” Cardin said.

Other executives, such as Randall Echols of Advanced Powder Solutions in Mitchellville, expressed concern over whether the government could redress situations that might arise from loan defaults as a result of canceled obligated contracts.

lrobbins@gazette.net