The number of federal workers facing furloughs over the next couple of months could be reduced as much as 70 percent if the Federal Aviation Administration finds a way to avoid temporary layoffs for 30,000 of its staffers.

Last month, FAA, which had a salaries and expenses shortfall of about $77 million, announced it would have to furlough all employes except those involved in air traffic control and safety work for 12 days beginning April 5. The furloughs were to hit 2,000 headquarters types here.

Later, FAA reduced the furlough forecast to eight days. Then last week it postponed the start of the furloughs. FAA said it had found enough money -- through cuts in travel and overtime -- so that furlough time had shrunk to six days per worker.

It now appears that FAA may find ways to eliminate the need for furloughs altogether.

At a congressional hearing last week, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) asked FAA chief Lynn Helms if he was going to ask for more money -- to stave off RIFs and furloughs. Helms replied: "At this point in time I can see two options which, if we can shake it out, we will not have to do that and we will have zero furloughs... I still do not want our people laid off without pay if at all possible. If I can bring those items off -- two others that I am working on which I would prefer not to discuss, if you don't mind -- we are going to be able to have zero furloughs."

If FAA avoids furloughs completely, it will leave "only" about 12,000 federal workers who are likely to be hit. The Labor Department already has had two rounds of furloughs in some of its units; one of them was voluntary to avoid RIFs. Census Bureau earlier this month began furloughing 3,800 staffers one day per pay period.

Furloughs started yesterday for 5,700 aides at the Office of Personnel Management. Those employes will be furloughed for up to 10 days, one day every two weeks.

Other agencies still are considering the furlough option but -- with the improved financial picture at FAA -- the number facing furloughs is shrinking rapidly.