Lawrence L. Guzick, a Navy man and an engineer, dropped by the other day to see another Navy man and engineer. It was a pleasant little meeting in a rose garden, with the family and a few Navy buddies around.

Then one of the engineers, who is also President of the United States, presented the other with a $25,000 award. Actually, the check was for $18,131.131, which proved that the Internal Revenue Service, though uninvited, showed up anyway.

But for Guzick, who says he accepts taxes as a fact of life, it was no time to quibble. After all, he was only the sixth person to receive the top cash award in a 30-year-old program that rewards civil servants who save the government money.

Guzick already has saved the government more than $10 million with a small device that, when installed in a ship's turbine engine where water accumulates, releases steam and water in a controlled manner.

"Everybody has been very slow in accepting it because its so simple that they didn't believe it would work," said Guzick. "They would ask: why, if its so simple, didn't anyone else think of it?"

But the 55-year-old graduate of Oklahoma State University said he understands the skeptics.

"People are very, very cautious and I, as the inventor, was desirous of charging full speed ahead. I can't condemn anyone for being too cautious because there's a lot at stake here," he said.

"Fortunately" said Guzick, who has been with The Naval Sea System Command since 1950, "I was in a position where I could overrule those people and move a bit more rapidly contrary to their judgment."

His steam trap, a quarter-of-an-inch thick steel plate with an hole drilled through the middle, has already been installed in 95 per cent of the Navy's conventional ships, which will save $30 to $40 million a year in fuel. Testing is still under way to find out whether the device will hold up under the more severe steam pressures generated by ships of the Navy's nuclear-powered fleet.

Guzick explained that the difference between his device and the more conventional steam traps is that his allows the steam to pass through for use as energy is needed, instead of in the completely open or completely shut operation of older traps.

This makes for more efficient use of steam, and the saving of the fuel that generates it. The older traps also lended to erode in operation, losing steam through leakage.

"That water goes through so fast that its like bullets chipping that metal," Guzick said in explaining the cause of the erosion.

Another problem with the conventional traps is that often they would not open, thereby letting water collect where it would damage the machinery. Sometimes they opened too much and steam would be lost.

"Its a trade-off concept," the inventor said of his invention. "You recognize you're going to loose a certain amount of steam but in a very controlled and calculated manner."

Guzick said he first came upon his idea while working as a piping engineer with the Naval Ship Engineering Center. He said that the turbogenerators on large ships frequently broke down due to water that had collected in the turbines, causing damage to the bearings.

Some engines, however, carried traps with an hole through the middle, and these did not break down as often. But even this model had a valve, which, when it moved up and down changing the size of the hole, also eroded.

Guzick designed a steam trap without the valve and took it to his superiors. From there the idea was presented to the General Dynamics Corporation and the Newport News Ship-building and Drydock Company, which gave the valve a cool reception on the grounds that it was too small.

Years of testing followed and in 1967-1968 it was installed in the aircraft carrier Saratoga while that ship was being overhauled. The steam savings with the Guzick trap were found to be at least three to seven times greater than the steam saved with the old models.

Today the Dow Chemical Company is studying the possibility of using the valve of commerical purposes.

Guzick says he does not yet know what he will do with his award money, but many build a log cabin for his wife. Urs, and their three children on some land he owns in Pennsylvania.