Electronic Data Systems Corp., one of the nation's largest computer services companies and a new subsidiary of General Motors Corp., has launched an aggressive recruiting campaign in the Washington area.

The data processing giant is looking for new talent to help expand GM's role in high-technology businesses -- including defense contracting, telecommunications, and computer services for the health and property insurance industries.

EDS' eastern headquarters, based in Bethesda, generates about 40 percent of the company's nearly $1 billion in annual sales. About 5,500 people work for EDS in the Washington area, compared with three who worked here for the company six years ago.

EDS officials said yesterday that their eastern regional employment and the region's contribution to the company's overall sales performance will grow as a result of their company's alliance with GM. The auto maker's push into government contracting and its search for ways to reduce and control health care costs will accelerate that growth, EDS officials said.

EDS' strength is in government contracting, holding a $656 million contract with the Army, a $350 million agreement with the Navy and a $200 million contract with the Postal Service, among others.

"We aren't cutting back on anything because we've gone with GM. We still have our former clients and will continue to service them. But we're expanding and we'll need people to help us do that," said on EDS official who requested anonymity.

EDS, bought by GM for $2.55 billion last year, employed 20,000 people worldwide before the acquisition. GM transferred 10,000 more people to the control of the Dallas-based company.

But not all of those 10,000 will stay. In fact, many of them, angered by what they say are EDS' more stringent work rules and lower level of compensation, have voiced intentions to leave. For those reasons and because the computer company says it needs more people to work on GM projects, EDS has been conducting recruiting campaigns in Detroit and in the Washington area to find new employes.

EDS' recruiting campaign here was highlighted by a two-day open house that ended yesterday at the Bethesda Marriott. Company officials declined to say how many potential candidates stopped by. However, several sources said that from 500 to 700 persons were interviewed in Bethesda, compared with 2,000 applicants who visited the EDS open house in Detroit.

Some EDS officials said the company was particularly interested in candidates with data processing backgrounds in the insurance and telecommunications industries. Those are areas where GM needs help, both for itself and to serve outside markets, and they are fields in which EDS is a strong player. EDS, for example, set up the computer systems to administer Medicare and Medicaid claims.

GM's U.S. health care system has been running at about $2.2 billion annually for claims covering 2.1 million people. The auto maker's medical bill has been growing at about 15 percent a year for the past decade. If EDS can establish a more efficient, less costly health-care system, GM might sell that plan to other customers as well, some GM sources say.

In effect, according to those sources, a GM/EDS health-care system could displace Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Michigan, which provides about 45 percent of the auto maker's coverage.

GM officials yesterday declined to say how much the car company is paying for its telecommunications bills.

GM already has one of the nation's largest, private telecomunications networks, which EDS has taken over. "Together, EDS and GM communications facilities have created the most effective nationwide network for voice, data and video communications," one EDS recruiting ad said yesterday.

That may be debatable, the GM spokesman conceded. But if EDS lives up to that boast, "AT&T might ask to become one of our customers," the GM spokesman said.