HCFA groundbreaking marks end of political fight


A bruising political battle ended yesterday with the formal groundbreaking in Woodlawn for the new $122 million headquarters of the U.S. Health Care Financing Administration.

HCFA has been located in Baltimore County since its creation in 1977. However, once the government decided in 1989 to unite the agency in its own complex, Baltimore City touched off a struggle with the county by trying to lure the federal agency downtown.

In her remarks yesterday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala referred obliquely to the "politics" of the siting but declined to say more. She said it is "right" that the new headquarters is being built. As national health-care reforms are introduced and implemented, there will be increased emphasis on her department, she said.

In its new complex, HCFA will overcome its reputation as a "cumbersome bureaucracy. . . . We're going to cut red tape . . . and will be more responsive" in administering the Medicaid and Medicare programs for 67 million Americans, Ms. Shalala promised.

Even after the U.S. General Services Administration, after much political tugging and hauling, decided on the 57.4-acre Woodlawn site at 7500 Security Blvd., the city persisted in its campaign to get HCFA.

Developers aligned with the city's bid proposed a site just north of Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The General Accounting Office rejected the city's final appeal in March.

In the future, however, the city "ought to get special consideration," Ms. Shalala told The Sun's editorial board later yesterday.

She said she has assured Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke that the city would not be ignored.

"I told him we are anxious to be helpful," she said.

The Woodlawn complex will have four connected buildings. Construction is expected to be completed by March 31, 1995.

Several speakers at yesterday's ceremony said the new buildings not only will be up-to-date but will be "worker friendly," unlike several of the present HCFA locations, some of which were not designed for their present use.

HCFA's present 3,000 local employees and supervisors are scattered throughout 10 buildings in the Woodlawn area around the Social Security Administration.

While they applauded having a new headquarters, they wanted to keep it in Woodlawn and joined the fight to stay there.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, speakers, including U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, in whose district HCFA is located, and Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., gave much of the credit for the victory to U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, and two agency employees, John Gage, head of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Michelle Bruggy, who headed HCFA Employees for Woodlawn.

"This is a tremendous victory for the employees. It has given them a great sense of pride and accomplishment because they know they have affected the process," said Ms. Bruggy, who has been promoted to a management position.

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