Many federal workers who couldn't, or didn't, make it to the office Friday may get the day off with pay, anyway.

Thousands of feds struggled into the office Friday as this area was being pasted by its biggest snowfall in years. Many workers who got in late arrived just in time to be told to go home.

Early that morning the government had announced that a "Delayed Arrival/Liberal Annual Leave" policy was in effect.

The delayed arrival part meant that workers who tried to make it but were delayed for several hours could, if their supervisors were willing, be granted administrative leave for the time they missed. Not docked pay, in other words, or charged annual leave for their tardiness.

The liberal annual leave policy meant that any employe who didn't want to come in could take annual leave for the day. The exact wording of the instructions were published here Friday morning.

Just before 11 a.m. the Office of Personnel Management, after talking with the White House and with Metro officials, decided to begin sending workers home on a staggered basis. The first group to leave included employes of the Air Force, Health and Human Services, Interior and the State Department.

Half an hour later, employes at Agriculture, Navy, the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency were turned loose to slip and slide home.

Noon departures, according to the schedule, included Army, Treasury, the Veterans' Administration and the Department of Transportation. Leaving later were employes at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, then the Departments of Justice, Education, Labor and the General Services Administration.

Workers in remaining agencies--and OPM was one of the last to bail out--were to begin leaving at 1:30 p.m.

An OPM official said that supervisors have wide discretionary authority. This means that bosses can, if they choose, grant workers who didn't come in administrative leave for the entire day, just as they granted administrative leave for those who came in and then left on the staggered release program.

Many employes called OPM, the White House, radio and television stations and this newspaper to say that they thought the whole day was a washout. The president of the American Federation of Government Employees union accused the OPM of endangering the lives of thousands of workers by failing to order non-essential employes to stay home.