If the heat has you down, take a moment to consider the case of a fed who got burned last winter for following orders to stay overnight in a hotel so she could get to work despite a snowstorm that was bearing down on the city.

The issue is timely (sort of) because the Iran-contra hearings have put so much emphasis on following orders, right or wrong.

This case involves Sandra Bradshaw, a highly regarded secretary with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. In January she and other staffers were putting in long hours on a "time critical" report to Congress on the safety of All Terrain Vehicles. It had been delayed by two earlier snowstorms.

(Only people who have wintered in Washington can appreciate what a snowfall does to the nation's capital.)

With another snow forecast, Bradshaw's bosses told her to stay close to the office so she could be there next day regardless of road conditions. Her Laurel home is 30 driving miles from CPSC's Bethesda headquarters.

Bradshaw did as told and had a modest ($6) dinner. She got to work on time, and everybody, but the accounting department, was happy. It bucked her $81 hotel/meal tab up to the General Accounting Office. GAO is Uncle Sam's fiscal court of last resort. The watchdog agency does everything from investigating multimillion-dollar cost overruns to settling disputes among the government's bean-counters.

GAO's lawyers searched their files and found that the issue had come up before. Nearly always, it turns out, with the employe getting stuck for the bill.

Regulations, GAO said, don't allow Uncle Sam to pay bed and board for local workers except in out-of-town, or emergency, situations. While Laurel may seem like a long way from Bethesda -- especially during an ice storm -- it is still part of the metro area.

To make Bradshaw feel better, GAO noted that it had zapped similar claims -- from Joslin McIntosh in 1981 and Philip Rabin in 1984 -- who were also victims of a storm.

GAO's ruling may come in handy as a defense the next time your boss tells you to do something that you suspect may not be correct.

The fact that she rented the hotel room under orders, GAO said, "does not affect her entitlement to reimbursement" since it is a "well established rule that the government is not estopped from repudiating erroneous advice and authorizations of its officials and cannot be bound beyond the actual authority conferred upon its agents by statute or regulations," whatever that means.

Footnote: Bradshaw's boss ended up paying the hotel/meal bill out of his own pocket. Social Security

The House Ways and Means Committee is due to vote shortly on a proposal that would allow federal workers who switch to the new Federal Employees Retirement System to keep all their Social Security benefits. Under current law, that Social Security benefit is reduced for persons who draw a government pension.

Under the proposal the committee is considering, U.S. workers who switched to the FERS plan (and remained in it for five years) would be exempt from the Social Security benefit reduction. Thrift Plan Investments

The percentage of salary that upper-income federal workers can invest in the new tax-deferred federal savings plan could be determined by the investment activities of all employes over the next two weeks. For details check this space tomorrow.