For more than two years, it's been the place where nobody wanted to work.
But the empty offices in Hyattsville are about to get a tenant. In the closing hours of the 98th Congress, Senate Amendment No. 38 was slipped into the continuing resolution -- ordering 1,200 Treasury Department employes to move from downtown Washington to the Center Building No.2 at Prince George's Plaza.
The unusual bit of micromanagement from Capitol Hill is the latest installment in a long-running battle, first within the General Services Administration, and now within the executive branch.
Since the Public Health Service abandoned 214,000 square feet of space in the 10-story Prince George's building, the government has been paying $77,575 a month rent for empty offices.
Regional Public Buildings Commissioner James G. Whitlock had recommended that a new lease not be signed since no new tenants were in sight. But auditors for the GSA inspector general's office said the agency shouldn't give up a five-year option on the space, because it cost only $6.85 a square foot, much less than rents downtown. They appealed to then-GSA administrator Gerald P. Carmen, who eventually ordered the lease extended.
The GSA approached the Commerce and Interior departments, International Trade Commission and National Security Agency, but found no takers.
"To some people, Prince George's County is an off-limits place to work," said Whitlock. "That's unfortunate."
Then the GSA tried to move the Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service from a building at 500 12th St. SW where GSA had lost its lease. The division took its case to Secretary John R. Block, who promptly asked for President Reagan's help, contending that it was vital that the economists stay downtown with other USDA employes. The White House eventually agreed.
The Treasury's Bureau of Government Financial Operations (BGFO), though it wanted to consolidate six of its offices, proved equally immobile when GSA first approached. Its officials complained to Secretary Donald T. Regan who, in a September letter to acting GSA administrator Ray Kline, pointed out that the bureau helped save the government $1.5 billion last year.
"I will not jeopardize these potential savings by moving the bureau to a location which would seriously restrict its ability to interact closely with my office and effectively with other government agencies . . . ," Regan wrote. "The president's Reform '88 objectives would be seriously hampered by GSA's attempts to force BGFO to move to Prince George's Plaza."
Reflecting on the dispute, GSA Comptroller Raymond A. Fontaine said, "We were given the authority to manage office space 30 years ago, and every time we try to do our job, agency officials complain to Cabinet secretaries who go running to the White House. Doesn't the president have better things to do?"
He noted that the Treasury's Bureau of the Public Debt cited similar problems when the GSA wanted to move it to Parkersburg, W.Va., about five years ago.
"They're there now, answering telephones, using computers and happy," Fontaine said. "We haven't heard one damn peep out of them since they went. There's just a single reason why they Treasury and USDA couldn't go to Hyattsville: politics. This is a town where the distance from your office to the White House is power."
Thomas Gillilland, BGFO's director of external affairs, disagreed, contending that "Hyattsville is frankly an inconvenient place to get to. It's a 45-minute one-way drive or a $10 cab ride." Unlike the Bureau of Public Debt, he said, "we have daily contact with other parts of the government."
When Aubrey (Tex) Gunnels, staff director of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and general government, got wind of the flap he quickly came down on the GSA's side, writing language for the committee's report to force the move. Eventually, when the Treasury appropriations bill became part of the continuing resolution, the provision was written into law.
"As far as we're concerned the case is closed, the battle is won, and they're moving," said Fontaine. Gillilland made one more try, saying Congress cut out the $3.9 million the agency had sought to cover the consolidation and so "we don't have any money to move."
No problem. Fontaine said yesterday that the GSA would be willing to pay for it.