If you get a long-distance call from an associate or pal at the Department of Education that lacks warmth, that perhaps seems a mite terse or as if the caller is a robot reading a script, don't take it personally. Just another humble try by Uncle Sam to save money.

The department has apparently concluded that some of its people who use long-distance lines are windier than they need to be, or perhaps spend valuable time asking you how the weather is in Des Moines, are-the-kids-okay?, or otherwise frittering away taxpayers' dimes with nonessential chitchat.

To get a handle on its phone bill, the department has issued a set of guidelines for people using the Federal Telephone Service, which costs about 30 cents a minute.

What you should do before you dial, DOE advises its folks, is think about what you are going to say, and cut out the small talk when you start saying it. If everybody in the department shortened his or her long-distance calls by a single minute, the government would save about a million dollars a year, the antiwindbag edict notes.

Federal phone watchers say that often a letter or memo will be better, and more complete, than a telephone call, and that if you must make long-distance calls, first write out your thoughts or questions, and "avoid unnecessary introductory banter and pleasantries and get to the point."

When in doubt about the wisdom of even making a call, DOE folks are told to check with a supervisor. Last but not least, if you call your sister in Seattle, or your girlfriend in Guam, don't even think about charging it to Uncle Sam. Thanks to computers, the government now has a list of phone numbers called, length of call, what number it was made from, etc. That makes it fairly easy to check up -- even if you use somebody else's telephone -- if anybody wants to check. And that may be coming.