DID YOU HEAR? . . .

"We underestimated the customer's need for `face time.'"

-- First Union Corp. spokeswoman Virginia Stone Mackin, describing on Wednesday how the bank's steep work force cutbacks had alienated its customers.

Who's Been Naughty?

'Tis the season to be jolly, and maybe to turn in a neighbor who may be cheating on his or her taxes, as well.

The D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue is inviting anonymous tips about tax cheating and has set up a hot line (toll-free) and an e-mail site to receive them. The phone number: 1-800-380-3495. The e-mail address: Taxfraudhotline@dcgov.org. "Paying taxes is a civic responsibility," says D.C. Deputy Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi. He's looking for people who under-report income, falsify tax information, sell Social Security numbers or fail to file taxes, and he'll be making a list.

Oil Paper

If we ever run out of oil, we can always burn paper. Exxon Mobil Chairman Lee Raymond said the two companies produced more than 31 million pages and 1,000 CD-ROMs of documentation for U.S. regulators reviewing Exxon's takeover of Mobil Corp. Follow-up requests for documentation by the federal reviewers generated another 240,000 pages of data.

-- Martha M. Hamilton (hamiltonm@washpost.com)

Revival Sign

Assorted pooh-bahs of city and federal government gathered Wednesday at the intersection of Florida and New York avenues NE to "sign an agreement" paving the way for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to move its headquarters and 1,000 jobs into the economically struggling neighborhood, according to news releases from the office of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).

For good measure, an ATF news release called the document to be signed "historic."

Alas, nothing was actually signed. And nothing new, or historic, happened. But it looked great on television.

In fact, the city hasn't actually sold the land to the General Services Administration. The final price is still being negotiated, although the deal is expected to go through.

Assuming it does, it will give another boost to city hopes for a new Metro stop and a general business revival at the New York-Florida avenues junction.

The breakthrough actually came Dec. 1, as reported at the time -- two weeks before the television cameras were summoned. That day Eric Price, deputy mayor for economic development, and Anthony Costa, an assistant regional administrator for the GSA, signed a "conditional agreement" for the city to sell the land, currently used to store Department of Public Works equipment. The agreement pegged the base price for the five acres at $15 million, which will be adjusted depending on how much environmental cleanup is required.

-- David Montgomery (montgomeryd@washpost.com)

558,811

That's the population growth in the Washington-Baltimore combined metropolitan areas between 1990 and 1998, according to a new report from the Census Bureau. The increase pushed the region's population to 7.29 million, an 8.3 percent gain over the 1990 total. The region is the fourth-largest in the United States, behind New York City-Northern New Jersey; Los Angeles-Riverside and Orange counties; and Chicago and Gary, Ind. But the Washington-Baltimore region grew more slowly than the average for U.S. metro areas, or for the United States as a whole.