Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) is sponsoring legislation that would help federal workers facing RIFs keep their jobs, if enough of their friends and coworkers volunteered to take temporary pay cuts.

Her bill would require agencies to ask workers if enough would volunteer for money-saving furloughs and, if so, to furlough rather than fire anybody. Thousands of feds have already been RIFfed. Bigger job cuts are coming if Congress okays the President's new budget.

Nearly 40,000 civil servants are facing involuntary furloughs beginning next month. Most of the workers will lose one day of pay every two weeks, for anywhere from 5 to 22 days, depending on the financial condition of their agencies.

Only two agencies--Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission--have given workers the option of reducing their workhours (and paycheck size) to save colleagues' jobs. And at both agencies that is exactly what's happening.

Schroeder, who heads the House civil service subcommittee, would make agencies poll employes on the voluntary furloughs before anybody was fired. If enough people volunteered enough furlough time, their agency would not need to, and could not, RIF anybody.

Last fall this column asked how readers felt about furloughs vs. firings. By a big margin, people said they would volunteer for short furloughs if it would save friends' and coworkers' jobs. Officials who have been pushing "voluntarism" in other areas seemed unimpressed with the idea.

If this economy-minded Congress moves fast on the Schroeder bill, government agencies could still make their big dollar savings without dumping thousands of civil servant taxpayers into already crowded welfare and unemployment lines.

It is an interesting idea, and it couldn't hurt. Maybe that is why some people don't like it.