Federal officials who have been delaying reductions in force (RIFs) because they're unsure how to run one, and workers who feel RIF plans of their agencies are less than kosher will get some help this week. The Office of Personnel Management, which has the power and authority to do such things, is sending new guidelines to federal personnel offices telling them what they can and cannot do at RIF time.

As reading matter, the guidelines (FPM Letter 351-13, Revised Fpm Chapter 351 Reduction In Force) will probably not make the Post or Times best seller lists. Government regulations after all are dull, dull, dull, and prolonged exposure to them can result in glazed eyes and headaches. But RIFs are a big deal if you work for the government, and hot stuff here where so many people do and where RIFs are about as rare as sandstorms.

The new 81-page OPM guidelines explain old and new RIF procedures, and spell out changes mandated by the Civil Service Reform Act. The primary change is that seriously disabled veterans get the highest degree of job protection, over non-disabled vets and non-beterans, when agencies decide who has to go in the name of efficiency and economy.

OPM's guidelines explain RIF terms, describe competitive areas and retention registers and tell how they should be set up. They point out helpful little things, if one is on a RIF list, like the fact that an employe who has received an "outstanding" rating can be credited with an extra four years of federal service (length of service is most important in RIF situations).

They also advise agencies what kind of RIF records must be maintained, how furloughs can be used in some instances to avoid firing an employe, and so forth.

Not fun reading, but very important to the federal community that is under orders to get rid of about 4,000 people here before the end of summer.