The White House has proposed a serious relaxation in the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which was intended to prevent American companies from bribing foreign officials.

The administration maintains that the United States is losing too much business to competitors because we can't grease the palms of some of our best customers.

If Congress goes along with it, American executives are going to have to do a complete switch, as most of them had been given strict orders not to offer bribes for contracts abroad. The truth of the matter is, U.S. company sales reps are are out of practice. t

A friend of mine from a multinational confessed this to me the other day. "I was pretty good at bribing politicians abroad in my time," he told me, "but I think I've lost my touch."

"It will come back," I assured him. "It's like a foreign language. All you need is a little practice."

"That's why I came over tonight," he said. "I was hoping you would help me brush up."

"Sure," I told him. "Why don't you play yourself and I'll play the brother-in-law of the president of a country where you're trying to get a big order."

"That would be great. Let's pretend that we're having dinner at the brother-in-law's palace."

"You're on."

"Your Excellency, thank you for your wonderful hospitality. I have never had such a sumptuous banquet in my life."

"It is my pleasure, Mr. Doppel. Tell me, what brings you to Enchilada?"

"My company is interested in arranging a contract for the sale of puppy formula. We believe this could make a great health contribution to Enchilada, as it would save your dogs from breast-feeding their young."

"Everyone has been offering us puppy formula. What are your terms?"

"A five-year, low-interest, financed contract in which you would guarantee to buy $10 million of formula at world market prices."

"That's very interesting. My brother-in-law would like that. But what about his wife's foundation for the widows and orphans of Enchilada?"

"We would be happy to make a contribution."

"Good. The money is to be deposited in Switzerland."

"Why Switzerland?"

"That is where the foundation has its headquarters."

"No problem. Then it's deal?"

"Not yet. I'm sure your country is interested in the welfare of our people. I am the president of Enchilada United Way, and we are in the middle of our fund drive."

"Of course. Our company always gives to the United Way."

"Here is the numbered bank account of the Enchilada United Way in Liechtenstein. Just have your bank wire my cousin's bank in Miami. He is treasurer of the fund."

"Our bank will attend to it. Can we sign a letter of agreement now?"

"I'm not in the position to sign such a letter. That has to be done by my uncle, who is minister of commerce. I will write a note to him, but I warn you he's a tough man to deal with. He only accepts diamonds."

"We'll find diamonds. Anyone else on the list I should know about?"

"If you could find it in your heart to spare a few dollars for Army Chief Gen. Valdez's Veterans Hospital, he would be eternally grateful."

"Of course. Where is the hospital?"

"Of course. Where is the hospital?"

"It hasn't been built yet. But he'll be happy to show you the plans."

"If my company has anything to say about it, he shall have his hospital."

"You've done great," I told Doppel. "You're going to make a great comeback in the international bribery business."

"Whew," he said, relieved, "for a while I thought I had lost my fast ball."