The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly. A year ago this month, the D.C. Transportation Department asked the federal government for permission to stop stationing full-time bridge tenders on the South Capitol Street bridge across the Anacostia River as an economy measure. This week, the Coast Guard announced officially that it is prepared to act on the request.

If the proposal is adopted, ships requiring the bridge's span to swing open would be required to give 24-hour notice. These are almost exclusively ships sailing occasionally to or from the Washington Navy Yard, just upstream from the heavily traveled bridge. Officially, the bridge is the Frederick Douglass Bridge.

One day every four years -- on presidential inauguration day -- the bridge would remain closed, whether or not ships requested the span's opening, under the proposed new rule. The span also would remain closed for the passage of dignitaries going to and from Andrews Air Force Base.

Maintaining full-time bridge tenders at the bridge costs the D.C. government about $130,000 a year, although river traffic has almost totally disappeared since last year when the Navy diving school was moved from Washington.

The proposed Coast Guard rule, published Monday in the Federal Register, will be considered by the Fifth Coast Guard District in Portsmouth. It said comments must be received by Jan. 7. Information is available, the notice said, from Ann B. Deaton at (804) 398-6222.