It's all in who you know.

we've heard that before, and most of us probably agree.

Well, so does Martha Spice, who is in the business of advising people on how to get ahead in the federal bureaucracy. She's just a little hesitant about seeing it put so matter-of-factly in print.

"Personnel won't tell you it's who you know," said Spice at a two-hour seminar for six government workers in her apartment last week, but that's "the way things are."

Spice estimates that 80 percent of the federal job openings are "wired," that is, the boss already knows who he or she wants to hire by the time the job vacancy is advertised.

A longtime government employe whose last job was managing the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Greenbelt Park for the National Park Service, Spice, 39, quit a year and a half ago to become a private consultant. She is now putting to work her insider's experience as a mid-level line manager, where she supervised a staff of 20 or more, to help others get ahead.

Hers is an intriguing subject that tens of thousands of Washingtonians must ponder at least once a day as they try to climb the GS ladder to power, perks and a bigger paycheck.

Last week, Spice's Open University seminar drew a cross-section of government workers. Among them:

The frustrated programs analyst who wants to switch to a new agency because he feels he does not get along with his boss. "If you're boss doesn't dig you, you're dead," he says.

The woman well on her way up the ladder, but wanting to climb faster. She spent several years as a secretary, she says, and considers that lost time she has to catch up on.

The woman making a second start in the bureaucracy. She lost an earlier government job and wants to avoid making mistakes this time. In her eagerness, she has armed herself with expensive guidebooks.

A job-seeker trying to decide if she wants to take a federal post.

A computer programmer who feels he can climb no higher in his agency but has been unsuccessful in getting a job in another.

Ironically, a high-level agency personnel officer who knows all the regulations, but wants to hear what Spice has to say.

When so many of the middle-and upper-level federal jobs are "wired," the problem for the careerist, says Spice, is "how do you get in a position where somebody is going to want you." The higher you go, the more important it is for you to be in the "grapevine." At that level, it's the contacts that count, but you've got to take the initiative, she tells her class.

The fact that jobs are "wired" is "perfectly natural," she says. "Managers want someone they're going to be comfortable with, somebody they can get along with and can trust to do a job." It may be someone in their office who has done a good job and they want to advance. "I don't think that's bad. It's human."

Put yourself in a place where you can show how you can help your agency, she advises. "I changed my view about brown-nosing. I spend more time being in places with people who can help me. Don't think of it as sneaky, or two-faced or hypocritical."

Find a mentor, not necessarily someone in your own office, who can give you advice and help you along in your climb.

"It's important for anybody looking to make it to find somebody at a higher level to advise and assist them," she says. "A variety of research projects has shown that most top people have had mentors on the way up and become mentors for others."

The mentor-protege relationship should be a mutual one, she says. "Peoples high up in an organization need information and loyalty from the people at the lower levels." At their level of the ladder, they may have a different perspective on what is needed for a job and can pass that along to you.

Be visible, she says. Take on extra work that can lead to what you want to do. For example, join a volunteer task force that may give you contacts in other agencies and can provide a new learning experience to add to your resume. "Any place you are is an arena to present yourself and get more information."

If you're interested in working for a particular agency or at a particular job, learn all you can about it. Go over to the agency and talk to someone in person. When it comes time for an interview, she says, "you need to be informed on your goals. You don't want to go in and blither and blather."

When you feel boxed in in a job, she says, it's easy to complain. But a prospective boss who "sees you complaining about a supervisor is going to wonder about you. You don't get anywhere," she stresses, "by being disloyal and not doing your work."

Spice and two partners have formed a career-development firm, Resources for Action/Recursos en Accion , which has presented a 30-hour version of the seminar to the Agriculture Department, Interior, the Interamerican Development Bank and the Bureau of Mines. A four-evening course is being offered to the public beginning Nov. 5 in Bethesda (365-2457).

Half of the firm's name is Spanish because it has an office in Bogota, Colombia, where partner Ampardo Giraldo, offers consultation and training for women in assertiveness, personal growth and career development. Spice once served in the Peace Corps in Colombia.

Spice says that last week she got a call of thanks from a government worker, a "highly competent scientist." Feeling dead-ended in his job, he took one of her seminars six months ago. He has just landed a good job with "promotion potential," the result basically, he told her, of expanding his network of contacts.