Over the next few weeks Uncle Sam will be handing out racial identification forms to each of the government's 2.8 million civil servants.

Workers will be asked to list themselves by race or ethnic category. The information, which is supposed to be kept highly confidential, will be cranked into a government computer. Purpose is to let the government know how many minorities it has on the payroll. Officials are keeping their fingers crossed.

The last time Uncle Sam tried something like this thousands of workers at the State Department in a spirit of either fun or rebellion, listed themselves as American Indians. It looked good on State's minority goals reports, but the information was useless because the department had only a couple of bona fide Indians in its employ.

The current program results from a Commerce Department program initiated by the Carter administration. Purpose was to standardize racial data that the government had been collecting for years. Some agencies used one form, some another and nobody could agree on precise racial groups in our homogenized world. Commerce settled the question by decreeing that there are six racial and ethnic groups. Period. They are:

Black, not of Hispanic origin.


Asian or Pacific Islander.

American Indian or Alaskan Native.

White, not of Hispanic origin.

Not Hispanic in Puerto Rico.

If you aren't in one of those groups, you don't exist as far as the U.S. Government is concerned.

Under the new system, persons with "origins in the Indian subcontinent," mainly from India or Pakistan, will be required to list themselves as Asian or Pacific Islander. Before this decree they were something else!

New government workers are being asked to identify themselves by race. Those who decline to do so will be labeled by hiring officials. Brass in charge of the program say that no changes are to be made, even if a blond, blue-eyed, Nordic type says he is an Alaska Native, or "black not of Hispanic origin." Or the reverse.

Officials are hoping that people will volunteer the correct racial or ethnic information. But whatever they put down will be what goes into the computer. Be on the lookout for Standard Form 181 -- "Race and National Origin Identification."