You hear a lot these days about high-powered government officials who are too busy to get out for a decent because they're loaded down with paperwork. If true, there must be a lot of documents circulating with a bit of mustard or a few tomato seeds attached.

A recent news story about the hiring of a cook at Health, Education and Welfare by HEW Secretary Joseph Califano prompted a few phone calls to government offices yesterday to find out how veteran lunch-at-the-deskers are coping with this grave white-collar problem.

They, after all, may not have an overworked secretary to stand in a long carryout line for a tuna on rye for the boss.

David McColloch is a supervisory economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and had been brownbagging it from Gaithersburg to the GAO each day for 4 1/2 years.

His "chef" is his wife, Donna.

"I like David to have a variety of sandwiches even though he is not a fussy eater and does not have a big appetite," she says. "One day it may be bologna and cheese, another day meatloaf or tune fish. He likes hot dogs. The one he insists on is an apple each day and once in a while I will put in a few cookies."

The sandwich is made every evening after dinner and put in the refrigerator. Once in a while she will put a little memory message in with the lunch to remind David of something he has to do.

Yesterday McColloch was at his desk, which he never leaves during his lunch hour, eating a roast beef sandwich and shuffling papers.

He said he only needs one sandwich and an apple, and and doesn't bother with a beverage.

"I get out to a restaurant about once a month. It's mostly for business," he says, "and sometimes on a real nice day a few of us walk over to the Portrait Gallery and sit on the benches and have our lunch."

During the winter McColloch might go down to the cafeteria and have a bowl of soup along with his sandwich, but most of the time it's at the desk without beverage.

Janie Golden who works for American Telephone and Telegraph's sales division, says she used to make her husband's lunch in the evening, but doesn't bother with it anymore. "It was the Velveeta cheese, I couldn't stand to look at it anymore."

Her husband, attorney Bill Golden, has been with the Federal Trade Commission for 3 1/2 years and has taken a lunch to work everyday.

"She's right," he says, "I am a Velveeta cheese freak, I'm an addict for Velveeta cheese on rye bread. Last summer on vacation I took a big block of Velveeta chese along."

He breaks up the cheese diet with a little liver sausage once in a while, maybe a ham and cheese sandwich. The added expenses to his lunches is a salad he picks up in a cafeteria along with a beverage.

One veteran government lunch-hour obsserver tells about a group he knows who dash over to a bar about 11:30 for a few back-to-back martinis, then wend their way back to the office picking up sandwich to eat at their desks.

Not so with Dick Preston, a media specialist at HEW. In 1968 Preston moved over from the Smithsonian Aerospace division where he had been instrumental in setting up the original "Lunch Box Seminar" program.

Preston is having a weight problem. He is 6 feet 5 and now weighs 263 pounds and is trying to lose the 30 punds he had put on since his marriage a year ago.

Janice Preston, his wife, wroks in a furniture store and makes Preston's lunch in the evening unless it is something that won't hold until morining.

His favorite sandwich," she says, "is liverwurst on black bread and onion. I cut the bread very thin and sometimes when I do some baking I may put a brownie in his lunch bag."

Preston's lunch yesterday was cottage cheese, some carrot sticks, a grapefruit, an orange and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds.

To go along with this he brings his own Thermos of coffee and offers a statistics to go along with it.

"If the coffee machine is 7 minutes away from the desks of 30 people and they drink two cups a day, that is 30 minute a day they would be away from their desks and that means two man-years can be lost in a year."

Thank you, Dick.

Through the years I have known a couple of guys who brownbagged it on a newspaper. One always bragged about his wife's imagination with his lunches until the day he sat down to eat and upon opening the bag found a pound of uncooke string beans.

Another reporter who covered the police beat would come in every morning and toss his sandwich to a colleague. "Just let me know what kind of sandwich it is so I can thank her tonight," he'd say, and then he'd go out and get a beer and a hotdog.