Jim Thomas, a nuclear engineer, hops the B&O train near his Gaithersburg home each morning for a 30-minute ride to Silver Spring. There he works at one of the nine Nuclear Regulatory Commission locations in Montgomery County.
Thomas, 28, moved to Gaithersburg three years ago because it offered him just about everything he wanted - a Montgomery County address, a home he could affort on a half-acre lot and relatively quick access to his office.
But plans to move the NRC officer to downtown Washington have threatened the disrupt Thomas' schedule and dig into his wallet - as well as three-quarters of the 2,400 agency employes who live and work in Montgomery County.
"A change was rumored all the time, but no one thought it would happen," said Thomas.
Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason went to the employes' aid last week a 67-page report full of every imaginable statistic - from lost communiting time to gasoline savings - in an effort to keep the prize of a federal agency in the county.
"This happened to us once before. The feds just picked up their people and left. They're just moving people around like cattle," said the county executive's aide, Charles Maier.
While the tug-of-war between the suburbs and the city continues, up on Capiton Hill, where the House and Senate public works committees are charged with the final decision, there is talk that employe protests and the county zealousness offer a chance to block the proposed relocation.
And in the General Services Administration, John F. Galuardi, regional administrator, said all this "will be taken into consideration," before he issues his new recommendations in early July.
Gleason's analysts reasoned this way:
Three Montgomery County locations - in Bethesda, North Bethesda and Silver Spring - are all properly zoned for a new NRC facility.
All are within walking distance of a Metro subway station.
A site in Montgomery County would result it an estimated annual savings of $1 million in employe commuting costs, 300,000 gallons of gasoline, $71 million to the federal budget for 20 years of leasing cost and a daily reduction of 2,000 auto trips into downtown Washington.
To sweeten his arguments, Gleason threw in some reasons that managers like to hear: "To the NRC management, it would mean faster consolidation with attendant efficiency increases, higher employe morale, 'fresher,' more efficient employes arriving each morning, a greater willingness to work beyond the normal work hours when necessary, a greater willingness to 'put in a few hours' on weekends and holidays when necessary and reduced absenteeism due to inclement weather."
And to really sugar the defense, Gleason added: "And to the nation's taxpayers it would mean less costly operating expenses in Montgomery County, where lease rates are generally well below those in the District of Columbia and a savings of millions of dollars through increased efficiency sooner than would otherwise be the case."
The NRC was created as an independent agency in 1974, taking over the licensing and regulatory functions of the Atomic Energy Commission. Since then, most of its offices have been leased in Bethesda and Silver Spring. The agency is one of six federal establishments with a total of 20 locations in Montgomery County.
"We've got people coming from as far as Frederick County, Annapolis and Mount Airy," said Thomas, the NRC engineer. "Any semblance of flexitime that they have will go out the window because of increased community distances, and so will overtime. A lot of employes don't want to be downtown in the District at night. You're talking to one of them."
Although about 10 percent of NRC workers favor a move to the District, others object to it partly because of the expenses they anticipate. A survey of employes showed that estimated montly costs of commuting and parking would increase about $100 each, and for employes in lower grades that bite could force them to quit.
"There's no way I could afford the $50 to $100 montly parking downtown on my salary," said Taube Postal, a 23-year-old licensing assistant and a Riverdale resident who currently is a Grade 6. "Here in Silver Spring I pay 75 cents a day for parking.
Moving downtown would effectively put the clerical people down a grade because of the added costs. Most of them are mothers and can't afford the extra time it would take to travel because of responsibilities with their children. For Me, I chose to work in this area because I could get here easily without having to depend on anyone else. I couldn't imagine downtown with all that switching of buses. I'm not used to place.
Upon learning of the proposed move to the Fort Lincoln renewal area or the vicinity of 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, NRC employes sought help from the National Treasury Employes Union, which then was not representing them.
The union interceded and subsequently won representation for the NRC from the American Federation of Government Employes and a Senate hearing on the move proposal.
It was that hearing that set Gleason into action. In his report, he summarized for the GSA the benefits of three sites available in Silver Spring (his preferred choice), a central business district which is just 17 minutes from downtown by subway. "Really, all that's needed to revitalize downtown Silver Spring is somebody to take that leap and begin building, "said Gleason aide Maier.
In the western business district of Bethesda, space in existing or planned buildings in the Air Rights complex would permit the NRC to consolidate three to four years earlier than it could in other facilities. The agency has stated it loses $5 million annually because its offices are dispersed.
And sites in the Nicholson Lane-Rockville Pike area would be least costly to employes because the region is nearest to most of their homes, the report states.
"Our objective is to rmployment within the county," Gleason said in his report. "Our experience indicates that beyond simply increasing the tax base, this enhances the overall (quality of life) of the employes and residents in many ways and reduces air pollution and traffic congestion below what it would otherwise."