Four days before the Carter administration left office, aides to the president reluctantly surrendered a copy of a memo supplying the rationale behind Carter's decision to charge government workers for parking. It is four pages long. Here is the entire text:

Memorandum For: The President

From: Stu Eizenstat, Kitty Schirmer

Subject: Energy Issues

Decision: Agree. Issue Draft Circular, Initial J (for Jimmy Carter).

That's it! The head and tail of the tale are there, but the middle part, three legal-size pages to be exact, are blank. Missing. Secret.

Presidential aides began working on a pay parking plan several months before Carter, wearing a sweater, went on television in early 1979 to warn the nation that we had an energy problem, and to suggest some solutions. One of them was to require government workers, who had traditionally enjoyed free parking, to start paying for it. One of the benefits, Carter said, was that it might encourage U.S. workers to carpool it, or take the bus.

Even though Carter's order required feds to pay only half the commercial value of their heretofore freebie spaces, and even though he phased the program in over two years, the hills of Washington were soon alive to the sound of outrage. Feds blocked government parking lots, picketed the White House, wrote letters to the editor, joined the Republican Party, all manner of wild things. The White House wouldn't back off. The American Federation of Government Employees union sued.

After a long legal battle a District Court Judge here indicated that Carter's action -- implemented by a directive from the Office of Management and Budget -- was improper if it was done soley to conserve energy, but might have been proper if there were other reasons. The idea was that energy-conservation matters must go through Congress. The White House responded that it had underlying reasons, other than mere energy conservation, for the pay parking order. Show us your underlying reasons, the judge said!

The White House got a stay of execution until Jan. 16. At that time government lawyers produced the four-page document that was supposed to show the reasoning that led to the pay parking order. But the document was blank. Government lawyers argue that it is not subject to subpoena, since it is covered by the "deliberate process privilege." James McIntyre, the then-director or OMB, said it would be "unreasonable and oppressive" to require the government to produce the rationale, the thinking-paper, behind the decision to charge feds to park. The government argument is that the background paper, which it declined to supply, was a pro-con discussion of the merits of pay parking, not subject to subpoena.

Friday afternoon the AFGE and the government concluded their arguments before Judge Harold Greene on the merits of the pay parking order. It will be up to him to decide whether the president acted properly, in which case the pay parking program will continue, or whether it was implemented improperly. If that happens, it would mean the government's collection of parking fees from employes since October 1981 was illegal and the government might be forced to return money to employes. Nobody knows how much money is at stake. The General Services Administration charges agencies approximately $35 million a year for parking spaces. Agencies, in turn, charge employes half fees now -- with full payment of parking fees due to begin this fall.