Despite congressional action to keep it alive, Uncle Sam's once-flourishing alternate work schedule (AWS) program, which has let one of every five federal workers tailor work hours or put in a four-day week, shows signs of coming unglued.

At its peak, 525,000 employes (nearly 100,000 here) were in programs that let them set their hours within an eight-hour-day framework, or work compressed schedules that permitted them to routinely enjoy three-day weekends.

But in the last couple of months several federal agencies have dropped flexitime programs--which are enormously popular with most workers--because they felt AWS programs cut productivity, gave workers too much leeway to goof off, or left offices unmanned at critical times.

Until a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Coast Guard headquarters here was virtually shut down on Fridays. Civilian workers there had been on a four-day week--Monday through Thursday--for nearly three years until the Department of Transportation (it controls the USCG) ordered all hands back to the traditional eight-hour day, Monday through Friday. The Coast Guard, which prides itself on never having had a mutiny, now has a big batch of very unhappy civilians--whose personal lives and car pools are structured around the four-day week--writing letters to legislators, and naughty antimanagement graffiti in some restrooms.

General Services Administration recently canceled AWS programs covering 6,689 workers. Now all but 750 of them are back on fixed starting and quitting times. GSA chief Gerald Carmen told aides the program was disruptive and that many key employes were not around when needed.

One unit of the Agriculture Department in Alexandria has alerted staffers that they will return to the standard eight-hour day in May. Other agencies are considering cutting back, or cutting out, flexitime.

Agencies now using [some kind of flexible or AWS schedules] include portions of Army, Navy, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, National Security Agency, CIA, Transportation, State, Interior, Air Force, National Science Foundation, Energy, EPA, Federal Trade Commission and Federal Maritime Commission, EEOC, OPM and National Science Foundation.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday okayed legislation by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) that would authorize AWS programs (approved by management) on a permanent basis. On Friday, the president okayed a temporary (120-day) extension of the flexitime program due to expire this week.

The administration favors the flexitime programs, but only so long as management has control over them. Meanwhile, more agencies are having second thoughts about flexitime and there could be more cancellations ahead.