Six months ago when Rep. Michael Barnes (D-Md.) of Montgomery County planned an outstanding service citation for federal employes, he thought he had a novel idea that would be an antidote to the noted Golden Fleece award for bureaucratic bunglers.

Now it turns out that Barnes' award may be an example of exactly what he did not want to reward: duplication in government.

Unknown to Barnes, Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.), who initiated the Golden Fleece awards four years ago, also has been giving out merit awards for government success stories.

Last week Barnes stood before a gathering in a reception room in the capital and bestowed his first Excalibur award on a NASA scientist from Huntsville, Ala. who has invented a device that improves the efficiency of electric motors.

The Barnes award was touted as "unique to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.s. Sate."

Proxmire aide Howard Shuman reacted with astonishment; "They've made a horrendous mistake."

Shuman cited several of the Merit award recipients: the head of the Veterans Administration, Max Cleland, who drives himself to work, the National Science Foundation for outstanding research, and the Air and Space Museum for completion of its construction ahead of deadline and below cost.

"We've been doing this for years," Shuman said.

Barnes' administrative assistant, KeithHaller, said, however, that his office contacted every department of government seeking nominations, but never heard any mention of the Proxmire merit award.

"We had absolutely no knowledge that the award existed," Haller said.

Neither staff plans to stop selecting recipients for the awards.

"Imitation is the greatest form of flattery," Shuman said. "Anyway, we've already been around for four years."

Shuman attributed the lack of publicity about Proxmire's merit awards to the fact that "generally speaking, something somebody does good is seldom news."

Haller said he thought Barnes' Excalibur award may get more recognition because it has the endorsement of House Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr.

"There are so many federal workers out there who are behind the scenes but central figures in all of the crises that our nation faces," Haller said. "We want to give them recognition."

Government officials expect the device invented by Excalibur recipient Frank Nola to be manufactured commercially and to help the nation's energy conservation drive.

The shoebox-sized invention, called a power factor controller, attaches to motors and makes sure the electrical input equals load requirements. NASA has patented the instrument, which can cut power consumption by 30 to 60 percent in typewriters, washers, refrigerators, fans and industrial sewing machines.

The selection committee for the Excalibur recipient included Harry McPherson, former White House counsel to President Lyndon Johnson, and Joseph D. Tydings, attorney and former senator fromMaryland.

Barnes, in a letter to House colleagues in November, wrote: "It is time, I believe, that the public learns about these positive aspects of government service, as illustrated by outstanding performance and achievements on the part of federal personnel. I believe that a congressionally sponsored award could be a very useful instrument to this end and will help improve the public image of the federal government."