What would you do if:

You are the boss in a government office. The wife (widow actually) of a former coworker calls. She says she will be by to pick up several of his paychecks, and will it be okay? You hesitate because the reason the husband can't do it himself is that his wife shot him to death a couple of weeks before.

What would you do?

Well, if you were a certain U.S. Forest Service supervisor, you would scratch your head, put her on hold and call a higher authority.

That situation cropped up a couple of years ago in an Agriculture Department shop in Wyoming. It took the government three years to reach a decision.

The case was even more tricky than you might suppose because the shooting -- with a deer rifle -- was first thought to be murder. Later it was ruled manslaughter. The prosecuting attorney decided that while she pointed the gun at her man and pulled the trigger, it was all a mistake. Manslaughter was the charge.

All of the above meant that the government had a toughie on its hands. The widow was demanding her former spouse's back pay, benefits and payment for annual leave (vacation), which he would no longer be needing.

After searching its rule books, Agriculture bucked the case on up to the General Accounting Office here in Washington. First thing GAO did was to check to see what it had done in similar cases. Yes, there have been similar cases.

What GAO learned was that the U.S. Government is not in the habit of paying benefits or giving the salary of a deceased worker to whoever has been lawfully convicted of causing him, or her, to become deceased. As backup support, GAO noted that most insurance companies have been upheld when they denied claims to persons who stand to profit from "wrongful" acts they have committed.