How much loyalty, and what kind, do civil servants owe, and to whom do they owe it?

Several weeks ago, we printed part of a letter that a senior government economist sent to an Ivy League student who was inquiring about federal employment. In the letter, the economist said that "a government career is no longer a very attractive prospect and is likely to get worse" because of proposals to change the federal fringe benefit package.

After that letter was printed, a number of people wrote expressing shock at the "disloyal" attitude of the economist. One writer, R.E.W. of Arlington, said federal employes who want to criticize the government outside the chain of command should first resign.

"If you eat the king's bread and drink the king's wine, you serve the king," R.E.W. said. "Apparently these people never heard of loyalty to one's employer."

Another letter writer said: "If anyone in my company publicly bellyached the way some government workers do . . . he or she would be out the door in five minutes. Loyalty sometimes involves taking your lumps in private. I have seen comments in federal union newsletters (about individual bosses or THE boss) that would not be tolerated for an instant in the private sector."

Not everyone agrees. Here are some letters to the Monday Morning Quarterback from federal workers who see the loyalty issue another way:

*"R.E.W. forgets that loyalty is a two-way street. When I joined the government, the American people, through their elected agents, made promises to me concerning compensation, benefits and working conditions. I made promises to them concerning the quality and quantity of my work.

"The American people have since broken, attempted or made plans to break almost every promise they made me, yet they want me to keep my side of the bargain. Under the circumstances it's a tribute to the dedication of feds that they show any loyalty at all.

"R.E.W. is hopelessly naive . . . if he thinks that this loyalty will extend to standing by silently and letting your children or children of friends enter the federal service without warning them they will be exploited if they do so . . . . " R.B., Gaithersburg

*"One need not resign to criticize his federal employer . . . . Since we have no monarchy, the 'drinking the king's wine' test doesn't apply. Loyalty works both ways. An employee who considers reneging on promised pension benefits deserves little, if any, loyalty. After two years on the job, I still don't know what kind of pension I'm working for because Congress can't/won't make up its collective mind. Sorry, but my loyalty is running a little low." Defense Dept. firefighter

*"Like motherhood and the flag, all hail loyalty! The larger question: To whom are we being loyal (or disloyal) if we work for the federal government? The taxpayers (and we are taxpayers) pay us. However, we are told (at different times) we work for the president, Congress, the secretary, the director, the section chief or the head of the mail room. When I decline to pick up the boss' dry cleaning or get his wife a birthday present or type his kids' term papers, am I being disloyal? If so, to whom? I think I understand what loyalty is. What isn't clear is, who deserves my loyalty?" T.F., Washington