HUD's 'Cubicle Issue' Stirs Up Staffers
As Bush administration appointees at Housing and Urban Development get ready to pack up and leave, some career staffers also will be moving today, albeit temporarily, as their walled offices are gutted and replaced by cubicles.
The "cubicle issue" irks employees in HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R), a collection of economists and social scientists that work on issues related to HUD's regulation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, among other things. After more than a year of back and forth on the matter between HUD, PD&R employees and their union, the American Federation of Government Employees, workers were told last week to pack up ahead of today's move.
As The Eye's colleague Al Kamen first reported back in May, officials decided to convert the offices used by PD&R employees into a collection of cubicles as part of a consolidation plan to save money on rent. The affected employees are relocating temporarily to a HUD location three blocks and one Metro stop away from headquarters.
"There's absolutely no reason, other than to be punitive, to do this," says Eddie Eitches, president of AFGE Local 476, which represents HUD employees. The temporary move is "terrorizing 98 percent of the workers" in PD&R, Eitches says, since most are opposed to the move.
Union officials would have preferred HUD punt the issue to the Obama administration to decide and some workers view today's move date with suspicion, since it falls so close to the presidential transition. They're also upset that HUD is forcing them to relocate as Obama transition officials have asked them to prepare research on various policy areas.
Lest you have no sympathy for workers losing four-walled private offices in exchange for cubicles (the Eye has two of his own...long story), Eitches trumpeted a 2006 news report highlighting workers' concerns about productivity, privacy and handling confidential material in an open work space. But that same news article also mentions that cubicles help reduce costs, the primary reason for HUD's decision to displace certain workers.
"How could anyone say that saving $10 million doesn't make good economic sense?" said HUD spokesman Steve O'Halloran. HUD says the timing is merely coincidental and that the move is one of several that have occurred in the last five years as part of a department-wide plan to save millions of dollars on building and rent costs.
Eitches and others suggest however that the office-to-cubicle move wastes more money at a time when HUD should focus on doing its part to fix the nation's housing crisis. They also feel they were not properly consulted during the process, a point disputed by HUD.
Whether or not the workers are back in their original office space, sans walls, by the end of January as HUD promises, hopefully everyone will eventually be able to move on.
Do you, a friend or family member work in a Federal office with similar issues? Let The Eye know! E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or leave your information in the comments section below.
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