Nothing, absolutely nothing, is too insignificant to become a federal case. Take the IRS and the $29.72 paper napkins. Please!

It started simply enough last year at a new cafeteria in Atlanta where Internal Revenue Service folks eat.

The cafeteria was completed before facilities for preparing food, or vending machines, were installed.

Still, even without food, it was a cafeteria. So some of the revenuers began bringing lunch from home, and eating in the cafeteria. There were no napkins. And the people who run the cafeteria said they would not supply them until they started providing food and people started buying it.

What is lunch without a napkin? Messy! So some of the IRS people searched out the nearest substitute. They began bringing, uh, paper products, from the bathrooms.

The sight of napkins-on-a-roll was more than some IRS officials could bear. Image and all that. Besides, it was creating a critical paper shortage in some of the rest rooms. What to do?

A gutsy mid-level official took $29.72 from a special office fund, went out and bought real paper napkins and put them in the cafeteria.

When the IRS aide asked for reimbursement so the fund could be reimbursed, internal watchdogs within the Internal Revenue Service balked.

To make a long story shorter, the case was bucked up to Washington. The General Accounting Office took it on.

GAO (the fiscal watchdog agency for the U.S. Congress) searched its files to see what had been done before in similar situations (of which there were none too similar).

GAO ruled that the IRS was being too hard on itself. GAO said the paper napkin purchase was okay since it was not done for entertainment purposes, but rather to further the mission of the IRS. It does not like employes with crumbs in their mustaches, or jelly at the corners of their mouths.

Besides, GAO said, the purchase of real napkins eased certain shortages in the aforementioned IRS restrooms, no small point. Allow the $29.72 expenditure, GAO said, and get back to collecting taxes.

The case is closed. The cafeteria manager is now supplying napkins. The Great Paper Shortage of '81 is a dim memory.

Who says nothing works in government?