The federal agency that sets government personnel policies, monitors layoffs (RIFs) and furloughs is itself bracing for RIFs and furloughs in the near future.

Office of Personnel Management says it is very likely that it will have to begin a series of short (30 days or less) and extended (more than 30 days) furloughs before too long. First to be hit by furloughs will be investigators who run background checks on would-be government employes for other agencies.

Part of the salaries of the investigators is paid out of the agency budget, through a revolving fund. But a chunk comes from agencies that reimburse OPM for sleuthwork. Federal hiring is down, amd so is the number of investigations.

OPM has given its various regions and headquarters here the green light to begin furloughs of investigators when necessary. And that could be soon.

It also is considering asking investigative types to volunteer for short stints of LWOP (leave without pay). OPM, like other agencies, is under the gun to reduce spending 12 percent this year (the White House says do it; Congress has yet to react). If those cuts stick, OPM will be resorting to RIFs in several of its units. And as OPM goes, so goes the rest of the government . . . .

Furlough Rumor: Government Printing Office brass say there is no truth to the rumor, which paralyzed portions of the world's biggest print shop last week, that it is planning to furlough troops from Dec. 24 to mid-January. Repeat, no GPO furlough plans for now. Have a nice Christmas!

Did You Hear That Click? Workers at the Federal Emergency Management Agency are being super-careful on the telephone these days. Reason: FEMA has reminded one and all that telephone conversations on some of its lines are subject to "monitoring."

Things heard, or recorded, over FEMA lines are not to be used for law enforcement purposes, the agency says. But they can be used in disciplinary action against employes accused of security violations on the telephone.

FEMA officials say the alert is nothing special. They say that FEMA deals with lots of classified information on the telephone, and that workers should be extra careful in what they say no matter what.

Commerce Department has given gold medals for outstanding service to Robert E. Joseph, Paul R. Friday, S. Thomas Romeo, Burton H. Colvin, Robert D. Cutkosky, J. William Gadzuk, Ernest E. Hughes, Harry H. Ku, Theodore E. Madey, William C. Martin, John T. Yates Jr., Donal G. Davis, Diana H. Josephson, Geoffrey C. Laurence, John B. Pearce, Joseph Sela and Neal B. Seitz.

The Department awarded silver medals to Francis J. Boucher, Stanley M. Domzalski, Stanley D. Matchett, Alan J. Berlinger, Martin J. Brenna, Robert F. Clark, Timothy Swann, Robert J. Varson, Carl A. Walker, Erne E. Wilkins, Paul J. Dempsey and Miles J. Sullivan.

Also, Wanda L. Ale, Rainer Heumann, Allen J. Lenz, Ronald I. Levin, James A. Moorhouse, Heskel Yehuda, Il Lan Kim, Paing Sup Kim, Keun Duk Lee, Young Hei Kim, Chong Nim Hong, Francis X. Critelli, Nan Harllee, Earnest Hawkins, Capt. Paul L. Krinsky, Barry A. Bell, David A. Didion, David E. Edgerly, Elmer H. Eisenhower Jr., Jon C. Geist, Jesse Hord, Dale E. Newbury, Neil A. Olien, Anton Peterlin, Edward O. Pfrang, E. Clayton Teague and Dr. Peter V. Tryon.

Also silver medals to Howard R. Baum, Ronald G. Rehm, Cdr. Christian Andreasen, Gilbert R. Clark, Donald E. Colton, Andrew E. Dizon, David Halpern, a posthumous award to Dr. Billy M. Lewis, Alexander Malahoff, Richard F. Myers, Howard M. Sparks, Lt. Comdr. Donnie M. Spillman, Lt. Gary L. Johnson, Douglas A. Friske, Paul E. Long Jr., Wilson A. Shaffer, James E. Kemper, David B. Enabnit, Gary C. Guenther, Cdr. John K. Callahan, Lt. Cdr. Richard P. Floyd, David L. Brannon, and Gordon R. Pringle.

Also Joseph F. Caponio, Trygve M. Blix, Aaron W. Deitch, Ruth W. Lyles, Mabel S. Merchant, Paul R. Michl, Doreane I. Poteat and Peter D. Rosenberg.