Federal agencies can't open "leave banks," where employees-in-need draw on leave donated by colleagues, until the government figures how to get around regulations that make it illegal for rank-and-filers to give gifts (such as paid time off) to superiors.

The House is considering a bill by Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) that would require agencies to set up and operate banks dispensing donated sick and annual leave to workers facing family or medical emergencies who have run out of paid time off. That bill exempts leave banks from regulations prohibiting workers from giving gifts to bosses, or coworkers who make more money. But until it becomes law, the government can't open any new leave banks.

The federal government, with nearly 3 million workers, has one leave bank in operation: It is an experimental program, exempt from the gift law, limited to one customer -- an Energy Department worker in Ohio.

Uncle Sam usually turns a blind eye to gift-giving between workers and bosses at birthday or Christmastime, or for retirements, unless there are complaints that the gifts were soliticted under pressure.

But the Office of Personnel Management, which supports the leave-sharing concept, has determined that additional leave banks would be in violation of the law, unless Congress specifically exempts them.

OPM has proposed regulations to exempt leave banks from the law. The regulations are being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget. The National Treasury Employees Union, which instigated the first leave-sharing test in government, has asked Congress to act quickly so that thousands of U.S. workers who need additional paid time off because of family or medical emergencies can accept donations of sick leave from colleagues.

Two years ago Congress okayed four pilot leave-sharing tests. Each was limited to a single worker. Two of the programs involved Internal Revenue Service workers; one an Army civilian employee and the fourth covered the Department of Energy employee. Three of the programs have ended, either because the employee or family member involved has died. The only leave bank still operating covers the Miamisburg, Ohio, employee of the Energy Department.

NTEU President Robert Tobias has appealed to Congress for quick action so leave-sharing banks can be set up immediately. Hundreds of workers have applied for leave donations, and many workers have expressed interest in donating excess sick leave. But until the legal hurdle is cleared, the government will be operating only one leave bank, for one employee.Retiree Meetings

President Steve Morrissey will speak to the National Association of Retired Federal Employees 1:30 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Dulin United Methodist Church in Falls Church. For information call Paul Jehlik at 533-9112.

Martin Wish, president of the Maryland State Federation of NARFE chapters, will speak to NARFE's Silver Spring chapter at 1 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Schweinhaut Senior Center. Call Gerald Gillman at 681-7269.