An article in yesterday's Business section misidentified a company once headed by Brian Thompson. The company is LCI International Inc. of McLean. (Published 10/07/1999)

The first thing Matt Williams did when he heard that MCI WorldCom Inc. was merging with Sprint Corp. to form a giant company called, simply, WorldCom, was to pick up the telephone. Several people had asked Williams, the spokesman for Washington Sports and Entertainment, if the company was going to change the name of MCI Center. He was told it would not. For now.

The merger news sent jitters throughout the Washington region yesterday, coming just 13 months since upstart WorldCom gobbled up one of the District's best-known companies, MCI.

MCI WorldCom employs about 8,000 people in the Washington area; it has 13 facilities in the District and 67 in Virginia. Its planned consolidation to a new campus in Loudoun County is scheduled to begin later this month, and company spokeswoman Mary Catherine Lucci said those plans remain on schedule. The largest Virginia facility is that of the company's Internet subsidiary, UUNet, which employs 1,885 people and is scheduled to be included in the move.

At the New York news conference, MCI WorldCom chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers said the new company would maintain a "substantial number of employees" after the merger in all the places where Sprint and MCI WorldCom have major operations. He acknowledged that the merger could result in layoffs for some in the short term, but he declined to go into details. He added that the transaction is aimed at future growth, which ultimately will require more jobs, not fewer.

Noting that there's a shortage of workers available for high-tech jobs, "The challenge is to get employees, not to terminate them," Ebbers said.

The company laid off thousands of workers after its acquisition of MCI in September 1998, despite assurances to state regulators it would not, according to a memo released by the Communications Workers of America that outlines several regulatory obstacles to the Sprint merger.

But MCI WorldCom spokeswoman Lucci said, "If you look at our merger last year, we have a 5 percent increase in employees this year."

Many local employees were wondering whether they will keep their jobs, and how difficult their jobs may become should they stay.

Some MCI employees who stayed after the WorldCom acquisition said they are worried less about layoffs and more about how their jobs will change. One employee contended that WorldCom has not had time to fully digest all of the various systems and cultures that came with the MCI acquisition.

"It gets confusing internally," said one employee reached at his office in Northern Virginia. "[The company] has all these different billing cycles and products."

The employee, who asked not to be identified, said the layers of bureaucracy often stall customer service and transactions.

WorldCom will still sell services under the MCI brand, even if the corporate name will no longer include those three letters that symbolize for many the beginning of the end of AT&T Corp.'s telecommunications monopoly. MCI founder William McGowan moved his then-tiny company to the District almost 30 years ago to be close to federal regulators. He then waged a legal and marketing battle that helped bring down the Ma Bell monopoly and usher in a new age in telecommunications.

Today, McGowan's legacy remains, but the MCI era is clearly over, and many in the industry agree that the new king of telecommunications is Ebbers.

Some are not so happy with the new kingdom and say the family culture McGowan created is long gone. One former MCI WorldCom employee who worked for MCI for 20 years said he left because of a new culture that puts deals above customer service. "I loved my job there, I really did," he said, "I don't feel like I left the company; I felt [MCI] left me when it merged."

Others say it is foolish to cling to the past. It is unfortunate that the MCI of today is "the exact opposite" of what McGowan would have envisioned, said Brian Thompson, an MCI alumnus who went on to build LCC International of McLean into the sixth-largest long-distance company.

But Thompson, who now heads Arlington-based Global TeleSystems Group Inc., said change is inevitable. Sprint and MCI, he noted, are now "names of the past, and [Ebbers] is clearly looking toward the future."

Staff writer Peter S. Goodman contributed to this report.