The government's in-house whistle-blower protection agency needs to do a much better job of letting the bureaucracy know it exits, and means business, according to the General Accounting Office.

GAO is the investigative agency that examines the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of other federal agencies for Congress. Although it would probably lose a popularity contest with measles, even GAO critices in government say it generally does nice work.

Current target of the GAO is the new (this year) Office of Special Counsel of the Merit Systems Protection Board. They were created by the civil service reform law to protect bueaucrats from improper, illegal or revenge-motivated reprisals by bosses who don't like to be told they are doing illegal, improper or stupid things.

While recognizing that the special counsel's office had early start-up problems with budget and staff, GAO says the new agency must do a better job of telling agencies how to handle whistle-blower complaints.

Most federal agencies have set up telephone hot lines. Employes (or members of the public) can report anything form sexual coercion to the theft of typewriters. But the office has not done a good enough job, GAO said, those complaints. Nor of letting the bureaucracy know there is a place where complaints will be taken seriously.

It also suggested that the office set up a system of tracking where complaints come from, and develop a follow-through system that will insure the complaints wind up somewhere other than a file cabinet.

The Office -- with a big boost from the Office of Management and Budget -- is developing ties with agency inspectors general, and building up staff.

OMB is showing interest in the board and office operations to signal other federal agencies that the president wants problems spotlighted and solved, no matter where the warts appear. The federal bureaucracy, which has heard well-intentioned trumpets before, probably will take a lot of convincing that this program is for real, and here to stay.