Bureaucrats who have trouble making timely alimony or child support payments will get a hand from Uncle Sam next month. The government will make the payments for you, via payroll deduction.

Beginning in early February, federal civilian workers can have their agencies deduct sums from their biweekly paychecks for alimony and/or child support. This is a first-ever concept for government. It now limits deductions to things like taxes, insurance, bonds and retirement contributions. dBecause of the size of the federal bureaucracy, the voluntary alimony-child support withholding program could easily become the largest of its kind in the world. Some private firms may decide to follow Uncle's lead in this one. t

The voluntary payroll deductions are not to be confused with an established program that requires U.S. agencies to take court-ordered garnishments from pay and pension checks of persons who refuse to make alimony and child support payments. That program, which also covers the U.S. Postal Service and military personnel, requires the spouse of the U.S. aide to get a court order for alimony and child support payments and present it to the worker's agency. It also covers involuntary alimony and child support payments from pension checks of federal and military retirees.

Federal agencies should get details on the voluntary withholding soon.