District and federal government workers will get separate marching (or stand fast) orders whenever the snow begins to fly and official Washington plunges into its annual winter panic.

This year for the first time Uncle Sam and the District will make independent judgements as to when to release or close down their operations employing 400,000 people here.

Until now, U.S. and D.C. generally followed the same procedures during snow and ice emergencies. Each arm of government let employes go about the same time. And the weather shutdown of the federal bureaucracy -- like that we had last February -- meant similar closings for nonessential D.C. operations.

Not any more.

The two governments will continue to coordinate traffic and transportation data and share weather reports. But Mayor Marion Barry will determine when and if D.C. government workers get off while the president (or his designee) will control the stop-go button for the federal sector.

Insiders say the decision is partly practical, partly political. The D.C. government is anxious to show its independence of the feds. (Over Christmas you recall, President Carter gave federal workers Monday, Dec. 24, off while Mayor Barry said the District couldn't afford it). Idea is that a federal sneeze needn't always give the District of Columbia pneumonia.

From a practical standpoint, the separate snow emergency release plans make sense -- if they work correctly. The majority of D.C. government employes live and work in the city. A substantial percentage of federal workers come downtown from the Maryland and Virginia sururbs.

During adverse weather conditions, many D.C. government employes have to work to keep the city operating. The percentage of federal workers deemed "essential" is proportionately smaller since they do not have traffic, police or hosptial chores to the extent D.C. workers do.

The thing to do, if it starts snowing heavily, is tune in a radio or listen to advisories over agency intercoms or through telephone alert plans. Calling the White House, mayor's office or anybody else will not help.

Radio-TV and federal agencies will announce early dismissals for U.S. employes and also any decisions concerning D.C. government workers. But there will be different announcements for each group. There are four things to listen for:

Early Dismissal: It means just that. You go home early -- once Metro is cranked up to handle the early rush hour. No charge to annual leave if the dismissal is official.

Delayed Arrival/Liberal Leave: This means you are expected to come in, but not risk life and limb getting there on time. Supervisors will have the authority to decide how much excused tardiness is permissible. You can be charged for the rest. Those who decide to take the day off may do so without the normal advance notice they are supposed to give.

Closure: The sweetest word of all. That means the weather or roads or all of the above are so bad that you can stay home without charge. Again remember, federal workers may get one signal, D.C. employes another.

Essential Employes: You know who you are, or you're supposed to. Essential doesn't necessarily mean high-grade, high-pay, or a Harvard sheepskin. Some supergraders are allowed to stay home while less well compensated janitors and guards must come in.

If it doesn't snow today, please clip this column and put it next to your alarm clock or office door. It will come in handy sometime.