Bureaucrats balk, bureaucrats bicker, bureaucrats beef. But seldom does a bureaucrat bolt.

Nancy Pridgeon bolted. She didn't like what her bosses were proposing or the way they were proposing it. So at the beginning of September, she up and quit her job as editor of the in-house newspaper at the Department of Commerce -- even though she was less than two years away from retirement.

Pridgeon's decision not only means that she forfeits a salary of nearly $24,000 a year. It also means that the retirement benefits she eventually receives will be about 20 percent lower than they would have been if she had stayed.

When you are a 60-year-old woman without a husband and without a nest egg, those are bold decisions. When you are a federal employe, those are usually unthinkable decisions. The office scuttlebutt is that she was either very courageous or very foolish. But Nancy Pridgeon isn't looking back.

"I got the impression they were floored when I left," she said. "But I felt it all came down to my personal integrity. I got out while I still have my sanity."

The match that lit the fire was typical of your office or mine. Mary Nimmo and Jim Charlet were appointed director and deputy director, respectively, of the Department of Commerce public information office last spring. Under budget pressure, they folded seven house organs that had served seven subagencies at Commerce. To compensate, they decided to expand and change World of Commerce, which Nancy Pridgeon had edited since 1980.

As a first move, Nimmo and Charlet decided to make a study of what readers wanted. So they asked Mark Mangold, a public affairs worker at the Census Bureau, to conduct an informal poll.

In what Nimmo and Charlet concede was a "fumble," Pridgeon was not told of the study until Mangold had already started it. "But we weren't going to try to dictate to her," Charlet said. "We wanted to work with her. We were perfectly happy with Nancy Pridgeon as an editor and a person."

However, Pridgeon felt the writing had just appeared on the wall. She says today that she was being "passed over on the one hand -- not told what was going on -- and fattened up for the kill on the other hand.

"I can't believe the editor of a publication isn't the one who knows best how to change it, if change was what they wanted," she asserted.

She could have applied for a transfer, and Nimmo and Charlet say they would have granted it. But she decided to walk out instead.

Pridgeon sits at home in College Park these days, sipping coffee and scratching for free-lance editing work. She has started a one-woman editing business with the name of Wild Goose Press. She concedes that wild geese may be exactly what she is chasing. "But I always felt that the federal government was a little short of people who stood up for their convictions," she says. "All I can do is stand up for mine."