If anyone at the Federal Trade Commission owes you money, better collect this week or forget the debt for a while.

FTC is broke. And its 1,600 workers probably will get half paychecks when their next payday rolls around on March 31.

Because of congressional failure to approve money for FTC to operate, the agency is preparing to pay employes 50 cents on the dollar in their next checks. Budget and payroll people must get the okay -- by Monday -- -- to meet the full payroll. Otherwise they can give workers only half of the two weeks' salary due them for the pay period ending March 22.

The House is in recess today and Friday. Insiders doubt that it can -- or will -- act in time to get an FTC money bill passed, sent too the Senate and then to the White House in time to meet the payroll deadline.

This presents an interesting situation because, legally, federal workers cannot donate their services. No pay, no work. Officials are hoping the crisis will be resolved in time, and/or that employes will continue to work in the hope that the other half of their paychecks will be made good soon. But they are not sure what would happen if nobody comes to work next week.

Strikes against the government are illegal. But it is just as illegal for the government to ask people to work for nothing. The FTC thing is no big deal -- unless you work at the FTC, of course. But can you imagine the outrage if members of Congress were put on half pay because some bureaucrats messed around with their budget?