The current I'll-show-them-your-$$$-if-you-show-them-my-$$$ exercise in the postal service is fun for the media, and educational (up to a point) to the public.

But the salary show-and-tell squabble isn't helping morale within the giant federal mail-moving corporation, the only government function that touches nearly everybody nearly every day.

For the past couple of months the USPS leaders here, and some of its line managers in the field, have been going at each other. The weapons are photo-copies of salary schedules smuggled to the press, press releases hand delivered to the press, and letters to the editor of various daily and weekly publications. The object is to show how much the other guy makes and, some suspect, to prove that he isn't worth it.

As with most wars or labor disputes, there is total disagreement over who started this one, or why.

But there is a management fight going on in the second largest federal operation (only Defense is bigger). And, we all have a stake in it since we, the public, are financing both sides, as usual.

Many of the nation's postmasters are angry because they believe USPS officials here have been behind a rash of stories that emphasize - the postmasters believe overemphasize - the salary of the local postmaster. In most American cities the postmaster is one of the best paid officials. In many small towns he or she (many are women) makes more than the mayor or some of the leading businessmen.

Some postmasters contend that the USPS is publicizing their salaries in order to make them look bad, and overpaid, and to soften the community up so managers in Washington can shut down, or curtail, local offices and services without a hue and cry from the community.

Postal officials in Washington say that is nonsense. They say they released the salary data because it is in the public domain, and because reporters asked for it. When reporters didn't ask for it, the USPS says, it made the data public to show the important impact on the community of postmaster and postal employee salaries.

Postmaster General Benjamin Bailar says, "If our basic intent were to close these offices, we would hardly issue releases saying how valuable they are to their communities."

Some local postmasters and their Washington allies in headquarters (a large group of middle managers who think they are being underpaid) have given wide circulation to copies of the top management postal payroll. That data - after confirmation - found its way into this column on June 14. It showed that at least eight top postal officials make at least $5,000 a year more than their counterparts in other federal agencies.

The pay tables showed that Bailar gets $66,000 a year; his deputy $61,000; one senior assistant postmaster general earns $57,500 and another $55,000. Other top officials earn from $52,500 to $47,500. The latter figure is the maximum salary for civil servants at Grade 18.

Just so there won't be any doubts, The Postal Leader (the newsletter the USPS sends to all its employees) this month put the salary issue on the front page. The Postmaster General says everybody's pay, in his postal service, is public. To prove it he lists his own, and that of his top staff, and says the service will continue to supply the media with salary data on local postmasters, and continue to send out press releases with that information in it.