Federal race and ethic data collectors are preparing to return to a system abandoned more than a dozen years ago to try to determine the background and origins of all 2.6 million government employes.

Under the "new" system, civil servants will be asked to designate on [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]Black/Negro; Hispanic or Spanish-speaking; American Indian; Asian American? Oriental; Aleuts; Eskimos or Non-monority Caucasians.

When the program is reinstituted sometime later this year, it will mark the first time since 1966 that the government has asked employes to designate their own race or national origin. The last time it happened, it was a statistical disaster.

From 1961 through 1965, federal agencies were required to keep race and ethnic data on employes. But the issue was so touchy, and so legally sensitive, that supervisors were told to make the evaluations quietly under what has been known as the "eyeballing" system.

That mean the boss walked around the room, pegged his staff by race or ethnic group, put the information (supposedly without any linkup to names of workers) on a card, and turned it in to a higher authority.

In 1966, responsibility for maintaining the racial-ethnic data was shifted to the Civil Service Commission. CSC figured the best way to find out what people are is to ask them. It did.

What it found out was that two of every three workers at the State Department claimed they were American Indians.

The number of Aleuts reported by some federal agencies exceeded the entire Alaska population of that racial grouping. Obviously, in the works of one federal official, "a lot of people were being frivolous."

The self-identification program was dropped shortly thereafter and government agencies returned to the old eyeballing method with supervisors deciding race and ethnic backgrounds of workers. The material is used to monitor federal affirmative action programs aimed at improving the numbers, and status, of minorities in government jobs.

Now, however, the government is planning to return to the employe-designation method that was such a failure in 1966. This time, however, officials believe they will get a better, more accurate count.

For the past few months government job applications in some career fields have been asked to voluntarily record their race or ethnic background on separate racial questionnaire sheets. Officials say that system, in combination with "eyeballing" by supervisors, indicated a "new level of maturity" and understanding in government. Translation: they do not think employes will lie about their race or ethnic background now as so many did in 1966.

Insiders say the new-old self-identification system will be announced within the next few months, and agencies will begin using it for all employes by fall.