How would you like it if the boss, for a change, answered your telephone all day? Sounds great, right? Wrong!

Imagine the embarrassment when, for example, your leader takes a message from your kids' nursery school saying they told ghost stories at the milk-and-cookie break and would it be convenient to send junior a clean pair of jeans soon as possible? . . . . What if the boss took a cryptic note from a close friend of yours saying he/she is just back from the doctor and, uh, maybe you better make an appointment fast! . . . . Maybe you don't want the boss in on those mini-emergency/personal calls that even the most dedicated of us get from time to time. Suppose all of your incoming calls were screened by the boss who, at 11:45 a.m., handed you your stack of messages and said you had until noon -- 15 minutes -- to complete your telephonic affairs.

Something of the sort is happening at the Department of Energy. DOE is battening down the hatches in anticipation of major personnel cutbacks. Individuals who are working on RIF (reduction in force) plans, retention registers and the like have been told no incoming or outgoing telephone calls until further notice. Bosses in some personnel shops are manning the phones, for people working on RIF programs, and taking messages for them. They get two chances a day, from 11:45 a.m. until noon, and from 4:15 p.m. until 4:30 p.m., to make calls or answer messages.

Energy brass say nothing sinister is going on, that bona-fide emergency calls are allowed and that the purpose of the exercise is to put the Department (and all employes) in the strongest position possible should RIFs become necessary.They are especially ticked off because bosses have told them that anyone caught on the telephone except during the free-talk periods will be issued a letter of reprimand for their permanent files. In case you are wondering, the no-personal-calls edict does not apply to top brass at DOE.