Maybe those car dealer ads inspired him--the ones that say "Operators are standing by at 847-FORD." Or maybe it was the fact that every suicide prevention service seems to have a phone number whose final four digits spell HELP.

In any case, you can't say Charles M. Cooper of Arlington doesn't think big. He's gone and invented a new phone system for the whole blessed federal government. The idea is that an agency's number shouldn't be random, as it is now, but should spell out a word that tells the nutshell truth about the office you reach.

Under Charlie's system, all federal phone numbers would begin with 87 or 872. That stands, of course, for either US or USA. Then the fun begins.

If you wanted the CIA, you'd call US7-7665 -- or USSPOOK.

If you wanted Commerce, it'd be USA-7335 -- or USASELL.

The U.S. Information Agency? Why, USA-7667 (or USAPOOP), of course.

The Department of the Army? Charlie suggests USA-4867 (USAGUNS).

Not to be outdone, The Department of the Air Force would be USA-7267 (USASOAR). The Marines would be US5-6325 (USLNECK). And The Coast Guard, which chases plenty of smugglers these days, would be USA-3673 (USADOPE).

State would be US7-3223 (USPEACE). HUD would be either US4-6873 or USA-4663, "depending on whether you lived in a HOUSE or a HOME," as Charlie puts it. Labor would be USA-9675 (USAWORK).

Finally, the main switchboard on Capitol Hill would be USA-2855. I'll let you work that one out yourselves, kiddies. Hint: the answer is usually found in china shops.

My only beef with Charlie is that he forgot a few.

I say the cash flow department of the Social Security Administration should be US2-7653 (USBROKE).

The clerk at U.S. District Court should have US3-3529 (USDELAY).

The Interior Department's number should reflect the biggest ego in the place (USA-9288, or USAWATT).

The Post Office should have USA-7569 (USASLOW).

And the White House, regardless of occupant, simply must have dibs on USA-4973 (USAHYPE).