The government will pay you for working for it even if you really aren't working for it. But don't push your luck and call in sick when you aren't working for the government. There are limits to what even Uncle Sam will tolerate.

All this, and more, happened sometime back in what is officially know - as the case of "Betsy Ducheneaux - De Facto Employe." An explanation:

Ducheneaux thought she had been hired to work in a federal hospital's kitchen in South Dakota. Her boss thought she had been hired too. She went to work.

Ducheneaux cooked, cleaned and did other kitchen chores for about six weeks. Then somebody noticed there were too many cooks in the kitchen. The roll was called out yonder and she wasn't on it.

After some embarrassing I-thought-you-hired-her dialogue between the personnel office and the chief cook, it was determined that Ducheneaux should have been hired, did nice work, but had not officially been hired. Nor had she ever taken the oath of allegiance to Uncle Sam, nor filled out all the forms, letters, cards and other items so necessary to becoming part of the bureaucracy.

Ducheneaux's supervisors said they were terribly sorry about the mistake, and would make it right. Ducheneaux must have wondered how long it was between pay checks in government, since she was never on the roles, and never paid.

At any rate, the U.S. government decided that Ducheneaux thought she had been hired when she reported for work, and that the mistake was not hers. Clearly, the government decided, she was due the $5.54 per hour promised her for the hours of work she had performed while not officially working.

Then, however, the payroll people spotted two days - following Christmas - when the nonemploye had taken sick leave. The government said it would pay her $1,240.96 for working while not working, but must deduct 16 hours from her total claim for the time she was sick and not working while not working. (If you think this is complicated, you ought to read the file on the case).

At any rate, the hospital forwarded the case to Washington where most foul-ups in government eventually arrive, except for those that originate here. The General Accounting Office researched the matter and found a precedent for paying somebody who doesn't work for the government for working for the government. But GAO also found a precedent for refusing to pay someone for taking sick leave from work when they were never officially at work.

To make a long and complicated story less so, the result is that Ducheneaux got paid because she performed her federal duties "in good faith and therefore, may be compensated for the reasonable value of her service during de facto period." There is a "however," to the story, however.It reads, "However, de facto employes do not earn leave and, thus, her claim for two days of sick leave is disallowed."

There is a happy ending. Six weeks after the employe started work she was officially hired.

National Journal: The current issue of the weekly on politics and government is sure to be a sellout. It features a major section on the "Embattled Bureaucrat" plus its now-famous White House telephone book.

Must features for Washington insiders (and would-be insiders) include articles on federal pay, changes coming for top career government executives and White House plans for realigning government pay along private industry lines.