Shhhhh!

The above more or less, is about all folks are saying to each other these mornings at an inovative - and very quiet - Commerce Department outpost in suburban Virginia.

Between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., the controller's office of the National Technical Information Service more resembles a library or a white-collar religious order than a busy, profit-making government outfit. Idle chatter, loud noises or other interruptions of thought-processes have been officially outlawed, early morning, as of last week.

Instead of talking about the previous night's adventures, sports, or answering telephones, the 50-plus workers of the controller's office have been encouraged to quietly get their acts together so they can have a more productive day. A couple of employes are assigned to respond to telephone calls or visitors. The rest, in hushed tones, go semisilently about the business of getting ready for business.

The "Daily Quiet Period" has been ordered by assistant controller Allan Betts, who advised employes in a memo entitled "DAILY QUIET PERIOD IMPLEMENTATION" that early morning silent-running will be tested for a month to see what happens.

The NTIS is a unique operaion in several ways. Located primarily in Springfield, it collects technical reports on government-funded research, digests and compiles them. Then it sells the material to business and the public. It pays its own way, also unique.

Employes come in anytime from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m., and talking - except to conduct outside business or in an emergency - is taboo during the quiet time.

Guiding principles of the quiet period were outlined in a sub-memo called "Guiding Principles." They are:

"1) No outgoing telephone calls.

"2) No visitors, other than public sector customers, are to be entertained.

"3) No unnecessary talking.

"4) No excessive movement.

"5) No meetings should be planned. If it becomes necessary to schedule or to attend a meeting, please arrange to meet away from your office area.

"6) All telephone calls will be handled by one person in each unit who will assist customers and take messages from all others. Messages will be held until 9:30 a.m.

"7) All mail deliveries will be delayed until after 9:30 a.m. (With the exception of cash receipts.)

"8) The person intercepting all telephone calls and visitors should be given at least one hour during the day without interruption."

Employes have mixed reactions to the quiet hour. One doubter thinks it is silly and discourages the normal flow of work. Another worker said it isn't so bad. it is not, he said, a place where people sit around under pyramids hoping to increase their awareness or grow (or shrink) something. Nor is it a "zombie mill" as one active morning type describes it. "We get things done, maybe more, and quietly" the proquiet man man said.

Other units of the NTIS are watching to see what happens. One official said it has been "rather hard" to monitor the experiment, since he is discouraged to visit during quiet time, and feels "odd, like someone bellowing in a library" when he pokes his head in during quiet time. More later.