Smoke-free -- that's the new rule at the Baltimore campus of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In an e-mail announcement of the new rule, which took effect Wednesday, the agency said employees, contractors and visitors cannot smoke anywhere on the 57-acre campus.

A ban already existed on smoking in buildings, but the new rule prohibits smoking in parking garages and outdoors, no matter how far from a building.

"Those who violate the rule could face a fine as high as $50 that will be issued and enforced by the Federal Protective Service and/or be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including removal from federal service," the e-mail said.

Placing the uniformed officers of the Federal Protective Service, a division of the government that provides security for federal buildings, in charge of a smoking crackdown has set off some grumbling among employees who think the guards have more important issues to worry about.

Agency managers also have raised some questions about enforcing the ban, according to one employee.

On Wednesday, about a dozen or so employees were spotted walking the quarter-mile to the complex's gate on Security Boulevard to get outside the campus fence for a smoke. Employees said they could not estimate how many smokers are on the campus, but noted that they are a small percentage of the 2,800 agency workers in Baltimore. Smokers seem to be leaving the campus at lunch and break periods, an employee said.

Smoking has been an issue in the government since the late 1980s, when the General Services Administration drew up policies to limit smoking in federal buildings. In August 1997, President Bill Clinton made the ban official, issuing an executive order that prohibited "the smoking of tobacco products . . . in all interior space owned, rented or leased by the executive branch." Today, federal employees who smoke typically gather outside building entrances or in plazas adjacent to their buildings.

The smoke-free rule at the Medicare agency grew out of labor-management contract dispute on numerous workplace issues that was taken to the Federal Service Impasses Panel. The impasses panel issued its decision in April and decided almost all of the contested issues in favor of the agency rather than the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1923.

In giving the Medicare agency leeway to amend its smoking policy, the panel found that "both sides appear to agree that there is an ongoing problem concerning the exposure of non-smokers to second-hand smoke as they enter and exit the headquarters facility."

Leslie V. Norwalk, deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said that the agency at one point offered to build a shelter for smokers on the campus, but that the proposal was never picked up by the union. As a result, she said in a recent interview, "in order to smoke, you will need to do it off campus."

The agency's e-mail ended by noting that "smoking has substantial effects not only on the smoker but also on the health of non-smokers. CMS is committed to providing the healthiest environment possible. Thank you."

Congressional Awards

The Blinded American Veterans Foundation will honor Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) at its 19th annual congressional awards ceremony Tuesday.

They will receive the 2004 George "Buck" Gillispie Congressional Award for Meritorious Service from the foundation, which is headed by John Fales and supports research, rehabilitation and reemployment of disabled veterans. The award is named for a World War II veteran who devoted more than 40 years to efforts to aid visually impaired veterans.

Talk Shows

Mark E. Krzysko, deputy director of defense procurement and acquisition policy, e-Business, at the Defense Department, will be the guest on "The Business of Government Hour" at 9 a.m. tomorrow on WJFK radio (106.7 FM).

"Thanks, President Reagan, for the Martin Luther King Holiday" will be the topic of discussion on the Imagene B. Stewart call-in program at 8 a.m. Sunday on WOL radio (1450 AM).