What would happen if you put 100 federal workers -- white, black, male, female, clerks, scientists, letter carriers, Internal Revenue Service agents, air traffic controllers, park rangers and executives -- in a room and asked each if they wanted more freedom to get involved in partisan politics? Something like this:

32 employees would say they are crushed that President Bush vetoed the bill that would have relaxed the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of civil servants.

27 employees would say they were glad of the veto, and happy that the Senate didn't muster enough votes to change the 51-year-old Hatch Act.

41 employees would probably yawn. They would say they couldn't care less about the Hatch Act.

Those numbers come from a survey sent to 21,500 of the government's 2.9 million workers. Nearly 16,000 -- or about 74 percent -- responded.

By contrast, when TV networks and newspapers tell listeners and readers who will be elected president, their reports are based on surveys of about 1,000 of the nation's

178 million eligible voters.

By polling standards, the U.S. worker survey by the Merit Systems Protection Board has a "very high reliability factor" because so many were asked, and so many responded.

The board survey won't give much comfort to either side in the civil service political "reform" issue.

Backers of Hatch Act changes say most U.S. workers are straining to burst the chains of political bondage that make them second-class citizens. But according to the survey, only 32 percent are doing much straining.

Opponents of Hatch Act changes say the law is the only thing that protects federal workers from their worst nightmare, the politicization of the civil service. But according to the survey, only about 27 percent are losing much sleep.

The survey shows that the Hatch Act is a hot issue with union leaders, union opponents, politicians and newspaper editorial offices. But not with the people they claim to represent or understand.

Because the Hatch Act is a yawner doesn't mean U.S. workers are dummies or political dropouts. It could mean they have more important things on their minds. If so, it would be a good idea for the people who claim to know them so well to find out what those things are. Job Mart

Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service is looking for a writer/editor, Grade 9 through 11. Call Rhonda Carr at 447-6617.

Labor's Employment and Training Administration wants a GS 13 public affairs specialist. Call Estella Boseman at 535-8754. People

General Accounting Office's Rosslyn S. Kleeman has been elected vice chair of the Public Employees Roundtable. As director of GAO's general government division, she frequently testifies before Congress on worker/retiree issues.

Jean Barber is back at the Office of Personnel Management as deputy associate director for personnel systems/oversight. She had been on a special assignment at the Employee Benefits Research Institute.