If your soon-to-depart boss gets a glowing thank-you letter from President Carter that makes your boss sound as tireless as Superman, as loyal as Lassie, tough as Churchill and compassionate as Lincoln, remember, this is Washington and not the real world. Although your leader may be the greatest, odds are that President Carter wouldn't know him/her if they met in a phone booth. And it is even more likely that your boss was the ghost-writer for the letter the president signed and sent out.

Shortly after the election, Carter appointees were contacted by the White House and told to submit letters of resignation before you-know-you-is-sworn in. To ease the pains of departure, the appointees were told to include a "draft presidential letter of appreciation" saying that Jimmy Carter was sad to see them go, had rarely met a finer person and realized the appointee was instrumental in (fill-in-the-blanks) accomplishments and contributions to the nation.

Those letters were processed in room 145 Executive Office Building, redrafted (or toned-down when necessary) and sent on to the president for signature. Most were routinely processed. A couple were toned-down more than a little.

The last of the letters should be in the hands of most appointees this week.

Each letter ends an era (the Washington-kind, measured in four-year increments) for a lot of people -- some brilliant, most dedicated and nearly all very interesting.