The Department of Housing and Urban Development will go ahead with a plan to slash its work force to 7,500, from 10,500, but it will take two years longer than previously was announced and will cost $20 million.

In a news conference with the National Council of HUD Locals of the American Federation of Government Employees, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo said the agency is extending the timetable to 2002, from 2000.

The department, which has an annual budget of $24.57 million, is earmarking the $20 million to buy out 1,000 employees, he said.

About 60% of HUD's work force is at or near retirement, and pushing the target date back two years will eliminate the need to terminate many of the employees, Mr. Cuomo said.

The American Federation of Government Employees, the largest union within HUD, showed approval for the plan by pledging its cooperation.

"We believe this agreement is in the best interests of our employees," said Mortimer Coward, the union president.

The department announced in late June that it would begin a massive restructuring, including a heavy reduction in staff and a crackdown on fraud and corruption.

Dubbed HUD 2020, the reform movement was, in part, reaction to criticism by Congress and the inspector general. HUD is the only "high-risk" agency in the federal government, according to the General Accounting Office.

The department has started a new enforcement center, headed by FBI agent Edward J. Kraus, to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse.

The housing agency has also partnered with the Department of Justice to share information to eliminate corruption. The Justice Department and U.S. attorneys will provide the department with monthly reports on people and organizations with records of HUD-related crimes.

In addition, the department has proposed debarment for 26 people from its public housing programs for violations, compared with only 13 people in all of 1996.

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