Some time ago one of our Monday morning quarterbacks hit a nerve by suggesting that federal workers get little respect from the private sector because so many federal workers dress like clowns.

The letter writer called bureaucatic Washington a polyester paradise where people -- despite an average wage of $32,000 a year -- leave home as if they were heading for soup kitchens instead of the office.

Today's leadoff letter is also critical of federal workers. It is from a woman who says you can tell you're on federal property by the strange noises coming from various offices. She writes:

I'm a contract administrator and must deal with federal employes on a daily basis. From my observation many female feds can be identified by their gum-popping.

During the past month I made several visits to one government building. On each visit I encountered at least 3 gum-poppers per office. For the life of me I cannot figure out how anyone can concentrate with that repugnant noise. None of these women would last two minutes in my company. Gum popping . . . does not give a person an air of sophistication and professionalism.

I tried gum-popping as a child. But my parents informed me that only the low-life of society pop gum, and they weren't planning to raise a low-life.

Now that the government has banned smoking in many areas, maybe it should tackle gum-popping. Who knows, maybe productivity will increase because people can finally think. B.C.Y., Washington While I enjoy your column it sometimes gives people the wrong impression of federal employees . . . . The federal pension, for example, isn't that generous to managers and executives when compared to pension plans in the private sector. The federal pension may be more generous to clericals and non-professionals but it is the higher-level people that government must continue to attract in order to function.

Your column frequently makes it seem that all feds are rolling in good deals when, for many, taking the federal employee route was the low road economically. To be able to receive a fair pension after toiling for 30-35 years in underpaid conditions is not excessive treatment. Private firms keep their pay and benefits secret. If the public knew what it was being charged in the name of capitalism, they'd be more upset.

I for one would like a little less in your column about pay and benefits unless a more complete treatment can be provided. Does the public know, for example, that the federal work force has over 30 percent college graduates? This is a much higher number than virtually any other work group. Those people deserve to be paid fairly . . . . F.P., McLean Does anyone see the unfairness in the proposal to freeze within-grade pay raises for federal workers to reduce the budget deficit? We are a family of five; my husband and I both work for the government. If within-grade raises are frozen, it will penalize our family twice. We have no problem making a sacrifice, but why single out 400,000 people due the within-grade raises?

A suggestion: A one-hour furlough of all employees would seem more fair and equitable. Employes could be given the option of splitting this time up in increments during the year so as to avoid hardships until the full hour without pay is taken. G.S. and P.S., Maryland