Professionals at HEW, who are accustomed to getting some strange marching orders, can relax. They really do not have to act like ASSA's to cover for their bosses.

An explanation of this turkey day story.

Earlier this week, via interoffice mail, top HEW aides got an official-looking, official-sounding memo. It came from the Office of the Secretary (at least the stationery did), and dealt with the ASSA program.

ASSA, it was explained, stands for Additional Service During Supervisor's Absence program.

The memo stated that the Carter administration wants everybody working hard all the time. This includes "fuller use of all professional personnel when officies are operated without supervisors during certain periods . . ." like when the boss is sick, or traveling, or on vacation.

The Additional Service During Supervisors Absence program," the bogus memo said, "is being instituted by DHEW in order to obtain optimum production and services from employees at a time when the overall services of supervisory personnel is missing from an office." It sure sounded like a government memo.

"Effective this date," the counterfiet edict advised, "when a person who supervises from 3 to 12 persons is away from the office for any reason . . . the remaining professional personnel in the branch or division are expected to work additional time to compensate for this absence. The additional time is to be pro-rated among employees (see attached chart). For example, in a branch with 5 professional, would work an additional 1 hour, 36 minutes during each day the supervisor is absent. In an office of nine professional employees, each works 53 more minutes, etc." It really does sound like a government memo.

Employees who were temporary ASSAs would not, the memo stated, be paid overtime or get compensatory time for the services. But periods spent as an ASSA would, it promised, be kept on separate ASSA time sheets maintained by specially trained ASSA personnel.

". . . Upon retirement," it said, "the computed and officially certified time earned under ASSA will be used in calculating the amount of retirement benefits or pension for the professional employees."

The chart attached showed how much additional time professional workers would be expected to put in to make up for their bosses' absences. In ranged from 2 hours and 40 minutes for three-person offices, to only 40 minutes of ASSA time for people in branches of 12 or more.

Several HEW employees called in to complain about the memo. Copies were supplied this office. It sure looks like a government memo.

But, alas for the purposes of a government expose story, it simply isn't true. Somebody at HEW with lots of writing talent (and time) and a good electric typewriter, concocted the whole thing. Some people find it amusing.

Just to be on the safe side, I checked with the office of Joseph Califano Jr. He is, of course, the Secretary of HEW.

Aides say that Califano loves a good joke as well as the next follow. But they weren't laughing about this one. There is no such program, and never will be. It is illegal, they point out. And dumb. And not especially funny, they added.