Only the U.S. government would have an involuntary retirement program that is strictly all-volunteer.

The Department of Energy is seeking permission to allow long-service workers in headquarters to retire on immediate pensions as early as age 43. Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration wants the same early-out benefits for its people here.

Under the new civil service reform law, federal departments and agencies facing layoffs or undergoing reorganizations (and who isn't?) can request permission to allow their senior employes to "volunteer" for involuntary retirement.

In a nutshell, that means you may (if qualified) ask your agency to force you to retire. Although it is "involuntary" retirement, it cannot be done unless you volunteer for it.

The expanded early-out law says that workers must be at least age 50, with 20 years of federal (or combined federal-military) service, or they can retire at any age with 25 years of service. In the case of employes who joined Uncle Sam, or the military, at age 18 it would mean immediate retirement as early as age 43. For retired military personnel who have joined government as civilians, it could mean a secon federal retirement while still on the sunny side of 40.

There is a 2 percent annuity reduction for each year the retiree is under age 55. But even with that cutback, the prospect of retirement that young is an attractive option, and one almost unknown in private industry.

To get permission to offer the "early out" retirement, agencies must convince the Office of Personnel Management (the old Civil Service Commission) that they are facing layoffs or reorganizations that will result in major job shuffles. Both Energy and and Labor are planning major reorganizations, some on top of reorganizations that already have been made.

The first agency to get permission to offer the early out option to its employes was the Office of Personnel Management itself. OPM also gave the early-out authority to the Merit Systems Protection Board, another spinoff of the old Civil Service Commission. The offer runs until June 30 in both agencies.

Agriculture's Stabilization and Conservation Service here also has the early-out authority, which will expire April 8. The Panama Canal Zone Company and government will begin to allow workers to retire early on April 1 and its authority extends through Sept. 30.

Defense Department employes here, worried about rumored reorganizations and budget cutbacks, are hoping the Pentagon will seek permission for early-outs too. But no Defense agencies -- that includes Army, Navy, Air Force, and the Marines -- have yet asked OPM for the early retirement break.

Money Troubles: National Association of Letter Carriers President Vincent Sombrotto says his union is in the midst of an "urgent financial emergency." Sombrotto, who just took over the big AFL-CIO organization, says the NALC has an immediate cash deficit of $2.7 million.

Sombrotto says the NALC's executive board has approved a mail referendum of the membership, asking for a $1 per member per month special assessment. Just getting the permission will cost the union a bundle in postage getting ballots to and from its 180,000 members.

Dan Doherty, one of this town's genuine experts on the federal-postal legislative scene, is the new legislative director for Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio). Doherty was a veteran of the old Post Office-Civil Service Committee, which was ground up and reassembled as the Government Affairs Committee.

Disability Retirement Frauds: A task force of Labor Department and Postal Service investigators is zeroing in on employes who have allegedly defrauded the government by taking bogus disability retirements.

Yesterday a St. Louis postal worker -- who has pleaded not guilty -- was indicted by a grand jury on fraud charges. There have been other indictments in other cities, of Federal Aviation Administration and Navy workers. Many more to come, according to inside word from the Labor Department.