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Tsongas, Hewlett-Packard Try To Teach Employees About Deficit Danger

October 27, 1995

ANDOVER, Mass. (AP) _ Hewlett-Packard has grown into a $25 billion company and reached No. 22 on the Fortune 500 list by paying close attention to trends in the computer and office equipment industry.

But growing concern about another trend _ continued federal budget deficits _ has prompted company officials to teach their employees about the impact of the deficit on their jobs, families and H-P’s future.

On Thursday, Hewlett-Packard shut down its Medical Products Group here for over an hour and urged all 2,200 employees to listen to a guest speaker: Paul Tsongas. He ran for president in 1992 out of concern over deficits and the accumulating national debt.

When Tsongas was done, many of the more than 1,200 who attended sounded happy their company had made a rare foray into public policy. Similar events are being held around the country.

``H-P is a really big organization, and it can tap into a lot of people quickly. And if we educate people, I think there’s only one conclusion they can come to: This is a big problem and we better deal with it now,″ said Dianne Prendible, a personnel employee and eight-year company veteran.

H-P, which is based in Palo Alto, Calif., has grown increasingly concerned that the budget deficit, about $170 billion this year, represents a threat not only to H-P, but also its employees.

Almost every year for the past 25 years, the federal government has spent more than it has taken in. Those deficits have been lumped together into the national debt. The debt currently amounts to about $5 trillion _ nearly $20,000 for every man, woman and child in the country.

Paying the interest on that debt taps money that would otherwise be available for investment and research and development. It also cuts into money available for other government programs.

``The impact on H-P is substantial,″ one company document says. ``Customers will have less ability to purchase our products. Inflation will create economic uncertainty. ... For H-P employees in the U.S., the standard of living will decline.″

Top management figures decided to launch an educational campaign that includes a packet of literature and information on the company’s computer and Internet systems.

They have even written sample letters to President Clinton and members of Congress, urging employees to personalize the letters with their own political beliefs.

H-P’s general recommendation is for a seven-year program to eliminate the deficit, with no tax cuts along the way.

``We wanted to present this as a consciousness-raising activity, not as, `This is the company’s position and go out and support it,‴ said Gary Eichhorn, an H-P vice president and general manager of the Medical Products Group.

Tsongas was invited to speak in Andover because he lives in neighboring Lowell and has founded The Concord Coalition, an anti-deficit interest group.

During an hourlong speech and question-and-answer session with the employees, Tsongas sounded the same themes he did on his presidential campaign.

He called lingering deficits and the growing national debt ``generationally immoral,″ saying the workers’ children and grandchildren will have to pay for debts of their parents.

He predicted that will lead to generational warfare, as young people try to reduce the debt while older people try to hang on to benefits.

Tsongas also chastised Republicans and Democrats alike for the current deficit debate. While Republicans should be praised for developing a plan that would eliminate the deficit in seven years, their proposed $245 billion tax cut would help the rich more than the poor, he said.

``The sense of shared sacrifice would be replaced by an element of winners and losers,″ Tsongas said.

He cited a poll in Thursday’s New York Times that showed Americans by a 3-to-1 margin would forego a tax cut to reduce the deficit.

``I think the country is showing great courage and generational responsibility. We need somebody in Washington to listen,″ Tsongas said.

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