Washington is a city that runs on paper, and it is the secretaries that churn most of it out.

It is said secretaries make up a higher percentage of the work force in Washington than they do in any other city. So when you see so many bouquets of flowers, boxes of candy and unlikely couples lunching together, remember that today is the first day of National Secretaries Week. Actually, Wednesday is the day when many bosses treat their secretaries, according to the tradition declared by Secretary of Commerce Charles Sawyer 33 years ago.

Eleanor Vreeland, president of Katharine Gibbs Schools Inc., says this week is an especially appropriate time for secretaries "to remember that they are professionals and that they really are, in the business context, a life-support system for their bosses."

In turn, she adds, the executive should consider what his or her typical day would be without a secretary. "Bosses should put 10 items down on a piece of paper, things that the secretary does in one day to make the boss' life simpler and make that boss more successful." In that context, says Vreeland, the boss "should remember the secretary kindly."

Here's what five Washington-area secretaries have to say about their jobs, their bosses and their career expectations:

Susan Maxim, 23: "It takes a certain kind of person to do this," says the personal secretary to financial planner Alexandra Armstrong. "You're taking orders . . . and sometimes doing things you might prefer not to do. If you don't mind getting someone's coffee once in a while, or doing things like that, you can take the job for what it is and get a lot out of it." Maxim's basic duties include handling Armstrong's appointments, messages and correspondence, travel arrangements and "anything else she might need done."

While the pay is "fairly reasonable," Maxim says it's the bonus that "gives you an incentive." Major fringe benefit? The chance to get one-on-one financial counseling from Armstrong, a recognized expert in her field.

Looking ahead, Maxim notes that there are opportunities to move up within the organization. "I started at Ground Zero. The more I'm exposed to, the more I learn about the business. For example, when I came here, I had no idea what a limited partnership was. Now I do."

Maxim thinks Secretaries Day is "a great idea. You can't be recognized for everything you do every day, and this is a time when someone can say, 'I really appreciate what you've done.' "

Carol Browning, 46: "The best thing about working for William Brock is that we've done so many different things. We were on the Hill for 14 years, and then the Republican National Committee, and now here the office of the U.S. Trade Representative ." Browning is now preparing for her next move when Brock takes over as secretary of Labor.

After 19 years, Browning says she knows Brock's habits and how he wants things done. "We're used to working with one another. He's someone I'm comfortable with, and we work well together."

Secretaries Day is nothing special for her, says Browning. If Brock invited her to lunch on Secretaries Day, she says, "I probably wouldn't show up."

"It takes a certain breed of cat" to work as a Cabinet-level secretary, warns Browning, who adds it isn't a 9-to-5 job. "I'm normally in by 8 and we try to leave by 7."

Emmit Scott, 35: Scott started his secretarial career as a temporary with Contemporaries Inc. "They found me good assignments, some of them lasting up to six months," he says. The pay was a little better than satisfactory and, after 1,000 hours of continuous employment, they would give you a good bonus -- one week's full pay."

After working as a temporary for six different people at the National Rural Electric Cooperative, Scott decided he liked it enough to send in a job application. He's been there now for five years.

Although Scott has since moved up from general secretary to his present job as editorial assistant in the magazine department, he still looks forward to Secretaries Day. "I've never missed a year getting at least a nice lunch or dinner."

But Scott thinks many secretaries would prefer something other than a free lunch: "More personal responsibility. Let them make more of their own administrative and business decisions, depending on the line of work they're performing."

Cathy Osborne, 41: "It's very exciting but also a very unusual job. I started working for the president in 1968, when he was governor, and worked for both him and Mrs. Reagan for about four years. Then I quit to have a baby."

When Ronald Reagan moved on to a job in the private sector, Osborne remained in Sacramento to open a dress shop, taking time out only for Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign.

Osborne hadn't thought about working for Reagan again until she visited Washington in 1981. "I changed my mind. All it took was three days in Washington."

A single parent with a 17-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter, Osborne says her 11-hour days leave little time for socializing. "I get to work at 7:30 or 8 and usually get home about 7. I don't feel bad about that because I probably have light hours compared to some of the people who work around here."

The president, says Osborne, is a considerate boss. "If he goes home to do some work at the residence early, he'll say, 'Now, Cathy, you go home.' I say 'Okay,' but he knows I don't. That's the time I catch up on paperwork."

Traveling with the president offers "a nice change of pace," says Osborne. "I've seen an awful lot of the world. It's been fun, but it's hard work, too, because we do the same thing that we do in the White House, though it's under different circumstances."

People thinking of becoming secretaries, says Osborne, should "find a field they're interested in -- not just being a secretary. Find an area they're comfortable in -- whether it's politics or education or a major corporation -- and then start knocking on doors."

Secretaries Day at the White House? "My boss will mention it, but we don't make it a big event. He sometimes will write me a little note saying he doesn't have to wait for a special occasion to remind me he appreciates me. I don't need to be recognized on Secretaries Day."

Dwynne Archung, 26: "I love my job," says the appointments secretary to Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).

Archung is the first person Mikulski sees when she comes in in the morning and the last one at night. "I stay until I'm sure she feels all set with the following day, that there are no more questions for me to answer."

Archung says her job is exciting "because you're privy to a lot of things that other people aren't. I know what she does every single moment of the day, and I enjoy being her confidante. Whenever you're with the congresswoman out in the district, people just assume you're wonderful because you're with her."

Archung coordinates Mikulski's legislative calendar "with the political calendar with the campaign calendar. It's her job to get Mikulski to the right place at the right time. "It doesn't sound like a whole lot, but doing it keeps me very, very busy."

Mikulski doesn't consider Archung her secretary, so nothing special happens on Secretaries Day. But, adds Archung, "She'll take me to lunch and I go over to her house and we'll sit down to work, have a diet soda and start chatting."

The only thing Archung says she would change about her job would be "move Washington 45 minutes closer to Annapolis," where she lives. Her future plans: "I'd like to be doing the very same thing for the very same person, only on the Senate side."