Snow has an ego-deflating impact on the status-happy federal establishment. And a good thing too. The capital needs to get its priorities straight every now and then.

When the federal city is threatened by snow -- when all eyes turn heavenward and ears are stuck to phones -- we find out who the really essential people are. Being important is nothing when the snow flies. Being essential is what is important.

If there were bubble-gum trading cards of government officials, snow days are when you could easily get two Cyrus Vances, a Zbigniew Brzezinski and a Warren Burger for one card of Elizabeth Azeeze.

Vance, Burger and Brzezinski you know. They are government VIPs. Important. But on snow days, Azeeze is more. She is essential. She is a government building guard. (Friends call her the grandmother-with-a-gun).

Azeeza is important for several reasons. Not the least of them is that she has the key to the locker where the snow shovels are kept.

Vance, Brzezkinski and Burger can make, break, interpret or carry out national policy. But they can't do it if they can't get into their office driveways. This is where essential people come in. Guards, air traffic controllers, hospital aides, snow plow drivers, telephone repairers, building engineers are always important. On snow days, they become essential.

After last February's big snowstorm, a lot of people called. They said they were not world-famous, or known as important, but they were essential and on the job. They had to come in, with no extra pay, while most of the town's 360,000 government clerks, scientists, executives and whatever got to stay home -- with pay.

A couple of them made the point that while all men (and women) may be created equal, some are more essential than others. Pass it on, they said. This seemed like a good day to bring that up.