The Department of Energy will stop handing out pay checks at the office to its employees in January.

Instead, DOE will do what a lot of U.S. agencies would like to do: force workers either to have their paychecks mailed home, or sent directly to a bank. There will be no more Tuesday office pay days for the new department's 20,000 workers. And your agency may be next.

Handling pay check distribution by mail is great if you are middle-class suburbanite, or high-rise dwelter with a checking account and/or a nice, safe home or apartment mailbox.

Handling paycheck distribution by mail isn't so great if you don't have a checking account: (many people do not), or if you live in an area where thieves routinely pry open your mailbox to see whether there is anything worth taking.

Obviously those two problems did not occur to DOE brass or if they did, it was decided that people should get checking accounts or move some place where their mail would be safe.

Obviously DOE officials have never gone into the liquor store down the street on Tuesday evening and seen employees do their "banking" by cashing their checks and purchasing money orders to pay their bills. It may come as a jolt to some of the supergraders but some people live that way.

The argument against distributing checks at the office is that is an archaic practice and is time-consuming. Government studies have shown that Uncle Sam could save money - even by paying all that postage - by mailing checks home, and even more by sending them in blocks to various banks.

But most agencies have resisted that form of modernization because it does work a hardship on some employees.

Some agencies do it all three ways. They give checks out at the office to those who want them: send them home for those who like that and send checks - or dollar credits - to banks for those who prefer that system.

DOE has decided to eliminate the office distribution system in favor of the mail-check plan.

Other federal agencies will be watching the DOE system and odds are that more of them will try to impose it on their workers next year. Meantime, the checks of many cabinet officers still will get special handling - and human-style delivery at the office. But DOE says everybody working for it will be under the same system.