I AM ONE OF THOSE people who say, "That's the end of civilization as we know it." I said it just the other day when The London Times reported that two Scotland Yard officials by the names of Virgo and Moody had been found guilty of accepting bribes. I said it when the courts ruled that it was perfectly all right for that lady to get buried in her nightie at the steering wheel of her Ferrari. And I said it just the other day when I read about Elmer C. Fisher, not yet a household name, but reason enough, I submit, to say, "That's the end of civilization as we know it."

You are forgiven if you do not know who Elmer C. Fisher is, or if you say that you did not see the story reporting his triumph. The story was sort of hidden underneath one saying that Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia had been awarded his country's Order of National Hero for the third time - a new record, as they say on television. And even if you read the story of Elmer Fisher, you are forgiven if you failed to grasp its significance.

Now in all fairness, I think I should tell you that the saga of Elmer C. Fisher, as significant as it is, does involve some pretty dull people and institutions. Among them are the District of Columbia government, the United States Civil Service Commission, the District's Department of Personnel, the District's Board of Elections and Ethics, a person named Norval Perkins, a person named Charles Fisher, an appeal under Part 351, subpart I, of the Civil Service Regulations and, of course, the aforementioned Elmer C. Fisher. Pornography, this isn't. Gripping, this is not. But read on. The case of Elmer C. Fisher represents . . . You get the point.

Elmer Fisher worked for the District's Board of Elections. He was hired back in 1964 as a GS-3 and worked from January to November, apparently as a clerk-typist. Three years later, he was again hired by the board, again as a clerk-typist. This was 1967, the same year his brother, Charles, was appointed a member of the Board of Elections. In 1971, Fisher made the jump from GS-3 to GS-7 and became the election board's public information specialist. That same year, his brother became chairman of the Board of Elections.

Time for a pause. Two things need be said. The first is that Fisher's promotion was approved by Norval Perkins, the board's executive secretary who was even then compiling an unenviable record of one screwed-up election after another. The second thing to be said is that as a working reporter (it's an expression), it comes as news to me that there was someone down at the Board of Elections whose job it was to deal with the press. That he was called a specialist boggles the mind. Fisher's existence, to say the least, was something of a secret and I can honestly report that, on the occasions when I did go down to the Elections Board on assignment, I never met the man nor was I ever told he was there. Back to our story.

June 21, the Elmer Fisher who no one ever knew existed was promoted from GS-7 to GS-9, presumably because the Board of Elections was getting such a good press at the time. Fisher's salary went from $12,573 a year to $14,671, and this promotion, too, was approved by Norval Perkins who by now was becoming as they say, a legend in his own time. Things could not have been better. Perkins would foul up an election, Fisher would not answer questions about it and the city would continue to pay their salaries.

Then tragedy struck.

In August of last year, both Perkins and Fisher were notified that their positions were being eliminated. This is how things are done in Washington, a government town where no one is ever fired for anything. Instead, people are eliminated when their jobs are eliminated and this is called a Reduction In Force or RIF. More often than not, it is a ruse and this, sources say, is precisely what it was in the case of Perkins and Fisher. The executive secretary who could not run an election and the public information specialist whose existence was largely a secret could not be fired. Their positions were eliminated in a reorganization.

But it didn't work. In January, the Civil Service Commission ruled that one of the new positions seemed suspiciously like an old one and that Perkins should have been given a chance to get the new position. He had to come back and come back he did until he was later traded to the aptly named Gambling Commission. We now come to Fisher.

He, too, is coming back. Now stick with me because unless you have been in the Army, read Alice in Wonderland, worked for the government or tried to substitute a vegetable for the potato on the "special meal," some of what's coming up may not make any sense. Here is what happened.

It turns out that Fisher had been incorrectly promoted from GS-9 to GS-11. In other words, he was not a real GS-11, but something else. Probably a GS-9. Anyway, what the board eliminated was not Fisher, but the GS-11 position that, of course, Fisher was not. He was, as I said, really a GS-9. This being the case, and, I might add, perfectly clear, the Civil Service Commission ordered him reinstated. The date of this order was May 10, 1977.

It's the day civilization as we know it ended.