On April 1, an estimated 1,800 employees of HEW's Health Resources Administration are scheduled to begin moving from three office locations in Montgomery County to a 10-story building in Prince George's Plaza. Until recently the building was the home of the Naval Ordinance Laboratory.

The impending move has drawn criticism from Rep. Newton I. Steers (R-Md.) who has issued a statement deploring its cost and the failure to make a cost-effectiveness study prior to the move. A spokesman for the HRA's fledgling employees' union says the group is considering a suit to block the move, which has been pending since last spring. He said many employees were unhappy about additional commuting time and the transfer from traditional offices to open space arrangements.

A General Accounting Office report commissioned by Steers' predecessor, Gilbert Gude, estimates the initial cost of the move at more than $2million. Each subsequent year at the new location, the study said, would cost the agency $167,000 more than if they were to stay in their current locations. The report was released last week.

The GAO said, "We agree with agency officials that consolidating agency components having the same function is generally desirable and theoretically beneficial. The Health Resources Administration believes that its consolidation will increase program effectiveness and managerial efficiency. Because such predicted benefits are intangible, we cannot determine whether they will outweigh the cost and any inconvenience that may be incurred from the move.

"We believe," the report continued, "that moves of the magnitude planned by the Health Resources Administration and other Public Health Service components warrant a preliminary cost-effectiveness study . . . Since we cannot predict how much time HEW would need to make a cost-effectiveness study or what the results would show in terms of cost or effects on the agencies' programs, we do not know whether such a study would be beneficial at this time."

Because the HRA is to move into space currently leased to the federal government, such a cost study was not required by either the General Accounting Office or HEW.

Currently, most of the employees scheduled to be moved, are in the Parklawn Building at 5600 Fishers Lane in Rockville, while about 300 others are split between the National Institute of Health Campus at 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, and the Bethesda Federal Building at 7550 Wisconsin Ave. Employees at the HRA's computer data center in North Carolina are not scheduled to be moved.

The employees who will be relocated are to move into Federal Building 2 at Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville, which had been occupied by 1,500 workers of the Naval Ordinance Laboratory which moved late last year into Crystal CIty in Arlington.

In his statement, Steers claimed that the decision to move was arrived at in an "utterly capricious and arbitrary nature." However, in interviews, Dr. Harold Margulies, deputy HRA administrator, and Clifford Allen, deputy HRA administrator of communications, denied the charge.

Margulies said the decision to move to Prince George's Plaza was made last spring after Dr. Kenneth Endicott, the HRA administrator, examined the facilities as did the deputy HRA administrator and heads of all bureaus. He also said that all HRA employees were invited to meetings on the subject.

In addition, a private consulting firm was used to calculate the moving costs and to plan the move. Allen said that HEW requires such a study.

While HRA officials say the move is beneficial and would save money, Paul Placek, a spokesman for the employees' union a statistician at the HRA Rockville office, called the move a "waste of money."

Currently, HRA shares the Rockville building with the Health Services Administration, Food and Drug Administration, and Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration. By moving, Placek said, HRA will lose the benefit of sharing administrative services with those HEW departments. He said that the move would require an extra 50 positions in HRA to duplicate functions being carried by other HEW agencies. "We're doing everything possible to stop it," Placek said. He said that included legal measures, formal negotiations and seeking congressional help.

Meanwhile, Steers has asked Rep. Robert H. Michel (R-III.), ranking Republican on the Labor HEW Appropriations Subcommittee, to question HEW officials about the move during the March appropriation hearings. Keith Schiszik, an aide to Steers, said the effort is a last ditch attempt to stop the move. However, he said he did not know if it would be possible for Congress to stop it because the agency has funds to pay the initial cost.