A group of Interior Department employees has written Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton to ask that she step up efforts to ensure the health and safety of the staff that works in the main Interior building, which is undergoing a $220 million renovation.

"Each day there are strong hazardous chemical odors, welding fumes, soot, and other by-products originating from the modernization project construction zone that are making not only Interior employees ill but also visitors from the public," the letter said.

The employee who organized writing the letter spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution from senior officials at the department.

Dan DuBray, the department's press secretary, said, "We are very open to the concerns of employees, whether they submit them with their signature or submit them anonymously."

At the end of last month, in response to an anonymous complaint, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health contacted Interior about employee safety concerns and to review the department's safety practices. DuBray said NIOSH decided not to pursue the matter.

He said the department and the General Services Administration, which is managing much of the project, have set up air-monitoring equipment and held meetings with employees to hear about any safety concerns.

Interior's main building was constructed in 1936. The renovation includes upgrades to heating, ventilation and air conditioning, plumbing, wiring and fire alarms, and the restoration of historically significant spaces and features. The project is in the second of six phases and should be finished in 2012.

The employee said concerns that the building's air-handling system may be spreading contaminants have been ignored by Interior managers. He said some of his colleagues have become sick because of poor air quality.

In 2002, asbestos fibers were detected during renovation work and caused the evacuation of the building.

Team Bush

President Bush went to DAR Constitution Hall yesterday afternoon to "thank the team and talk about the importance of a results-oriented approach to government," White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said.

She said the administration invited 3,500 political appointees and Senior Executive Service members from across government to the event, which was closed to the media.

Bush touched on several issues, including Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, Iraq, the importance of freedom, economic growth and his federal management agenda, members of the audience said.

Layoffs at a Lab

Employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory have started receiving layoff notices because the lab expects to be hit with a reduction in funding when NASA's fiscal 2006 budget is completed by Congress.

Lab spokeswoman Veronica McGregor said that about 200 employees and 100 contractors could face layoffs but that the number of workers losing their jobs would depend on the 2006 appropriation.

The lab's employees were told in early September that they might face layoffs because of NASA's budget. The lab received $1.6 billion in fiscal 2005 but estimates that its funding will be reduced by 2to 5 percent for 2006, McGregor said.

Employees of the lab, based in Pasadena, Calif., work for the California Institute of Technology and are not considered part of the civil service. The lab, which specializes in robotic exploration of the solar system, has 5,025 employees and about 350 contract workers.

The rest of the NASA workforce would be protected from layoffs until 2007 under bills approved in the House and Senate. The House would ban layoffs until February and the Senate until June.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers had asked Congress for a moratorium on layoffs, pending a study of NASA workforce issues.

Kiko Confirmed

The Senate has confirmed Colleen Duffy Kiko for a five-year term as general counsel with the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Kiko served as a member of the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board at the Labor Department and was a staff member at the FLRA from 1976 to 1983.

E-mail: barrs@washpost.com