Linda Henderson, an administrative aide, looked up from her desk in Parklawn Building in Rockville and said she was eager to move to her new office in Prince George's Plaza - even though it is 15 miles away.
Fortunately, she said with a smile, she had anticipated the decision by HEW's Health Resources Administration to consolidate its bureaus in Prince George's County. The move by 1,800 employees begins April 1.
"I like it," she said. "We moved from an apartment in Montgomery County to a house in Prince George's County last August because of the move."
But Lorraine Evans, another administrative aide, said she was concerned about the effects of the move on her home life. Evans, who lives in Gaithersburg said, "I have a babysitter now and the move is going to mean more time for her and more money for me to pay."
A male employee complained about the longer driving time required by the move. "I live up in Frederick so I'm not that happy about it, he said. "It takes me 50 minutes now to drive to work. It'll add about another 20 minutes."
HRA's employees will move to Prince George's from three locations - the Parklawn Building where most of them work; the National Institute of Health Campus at 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, and the Bethesda Federal Building at 7550 Wisconsin Ave. They will move into a 10-story building at Prince George's Plaza that has been vacated by a Navy agency which moved to Crystal City, Va.
The move has brought a protest from Rep. Newton Steers (R-Md.), who said he is unhappy with the estimated $2 million cost and the lack of a cost analysis study on the move. Opinion among affected employees appears to be divided, according to a spokesman.
As a concession to employees, the agency has promised flexible time schedules, a day care center at the Prince George's building and a shuttle bus that would run between that building and the Parklawn Building to help HRA keep in touch with related HEW agencies, a union spokesman said. However, some employees have complained that although free parking is available at Parklawn, it will cost $15 a month to park in Prince George's.
One employee recalled the time when HRA was part of the Health Services and Mental Health Administration, before HRA was formed more than three years ago. Today's arguments by HRA administrators in favor of the consolidation sound familiar, she said. "When they brought HSMHA from Annandale seven years ago, they said this would be it - the last move. They said it was good for the service because we would all be together," she said. "Now, here we go again."
Hazel Hargrove, another employee, interrupted: "If y'all don't want to go, there's a big department here (Health, Education and Welfare) and you can find another job. I went out of my way for seven years. Finally it is going to be closer to home."
Hargrove said she lives in the District near Kennilworth Avenue and it takes her 45 minutes to get to work. After the move, it will take her 15 minutes, she said.
While some employees spoke mainly of the effects of the move on their private lives, others talked about how the move would affect their work. At the Parklawn Building, most offices are set up in the traditional way. But at the Prince George's Plaza Building, the open space concept will be used - about 100 persons will be in each room, with partition separating desks. Only the higher level bureaucrats will have their own offices.
Two supervisors in the HRA computer office said the open space concept is going to make the noise levels unbearable. Three computer terminals will be shielded only by partitions which will not keep down, they said.
"It's going to drive my girls crazy - clackety-clack, clackety-clack," said one. "Visualize a typewriter going constantly. Instead of going at 70, 80 words per minute, these things type at 140. It's like a typing pool, except that here, we'll also have programmers trying to write programs in that noise."
At the Parklawn Building, both supervisors have 10th floor offices which overlook woods with a view of the tall buildings of downtown Rockville. At Federal Building 2 in Hyattsville, one supervisor will no longer have an office. The other will have a windowless office next to the men's room. "I'll get to hear the toilets go flush," she said, with a disgusted look on her face. Then, looking around her division's office with its chartreuse accent wall, plants and colorful posters she sighed. "This is the most beautiful office."
On another floor is a doctor whose office is on HRA division which now utilizes the open space concept. Her 6-by-10-feet office lacks a door. File cabinets and bookshelves act as walls. A makeshift bookshelf hangs over her desk, and overflow papers are stacked high on chairs and on the floor.
"Isn't this the damnedest pigpen yoy've ever seen?" she asked. "And we'll have less space in P.G."
Although the move to Prince George's will result in more space for HRA, her departments will be allocated one square foot less per person, she said. Because of that, they will not be able to move all of their publications to the new building.
She said that whenever she complains about the move, her supervisors have told her, "You don't have to worry because it can't be any worse than you have now. You ought to be happy because a lot of people who have nice offices will find out what you're going through now."
Now the noise level in her office is so high that some afternoons she works at home, she said. "We talk about grants and contracts, a lot of things that require confidentiality. We have personal information about clients that we must really be very careful of John Q. Public does not have to know some of the hairy problems we have to solve in getting a project," she said, arguing for conventional office space.
She also said the building will lack resources she and other professionals need such as libraries. The Parklawn has three libraries. One has been planned for the Prince George's building. But she said she isn't counting on it. "I've been in the government for a while and I know when they say it will take five years," she said.
Sitting next to each other in another open space office, were two women who said they didn't mind that the new building would be open space.
JoAnn McDonald, a secretary, said she liked the open space concept because when she answers telephone calls for her supervisors, "At least I can see if they can get a call. They might care (about the open space concept) because with us all out in the hall, you can't distinguish who's a secretary and who's professional."
McDonald, who lives 15 minutes away from the Parklawn Building, said she wants to move to Prince George's Plaza. "I like a change of scene," she said. "I don't know anything about P.G. I like to learn about different places and how to get there."
Joanne Howard, a typist, said the move probably would mean that she would be reunited with her division. Because of a space shortage in her division, she was given a desk down the hall and around the corner from it. The desk was available because the previous occupant left, saying she did not wish to move to Prince George's.
I care, but I what can I do?" said Howard of the move. "I guess once I get used to driving, if won't be much of a problem.