Lump-sum pension payments to federal retirees could be rolled over into individual retirement accounts or other tax-deferred retirement plans under a proposal made by the Joint Congressional Committee on Taxation.

Under the tax-simplification plan, "any distribution from a qualified plan could be rolled over to another qualified plan or to an IRA" in most instances. Congress would have to approve the change.

Currently, the IRS taxes most of the lump-sum pension payment to federal retirees as part of their gross income in the year they receive it. The typical payment for retirees here is about $32,000. The first payment (50 percent) comes shortly after retirement. The rest is paid a year later. Between 85 percent and 95 percent of the lump sum -- based on age and service -- is taxable.

Nearly 70 percent of all retirees take the payment despite the tax, and even though it reduces their lifetime pensions.

A group of retirees have gone to U.S. Claims Court here. They claim the government is double-taxing them. It could be years before the issue is settled in court.

The government contends that most of the lump-sum payment represents the government's contribution to the pension plan, not the retirees' previously taxed contributions. U.S. retirees can't defer taxes by rolling the payments into an IRA.

The rollover suggestion is one of many ideas proposed by the joint committee to Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) of the House Ways and Means Committee. The suggestions went to the committee in mid-April and were reported by the Bureau of National Affairs on June 19. What Makes You Tick?

According to a survey of 16,000 federal workers, most like their jobs, but fewer than half would recommend government careers to friends. Many workers think the quality of new employees is slipping. One in three workers who answered the Merit Systems Protection Board survey believes the "buddy system" is alive and well, and that it plays a major role in who gets pay raises, promotions and the best assignments.

The survey showed 32 percent of the respondents want to have more freedom to participate in partisan politics. The rest don't care or oppose any relaxation of political activity rules.

At noon tomorrow on WNTR radio (1050 AM), Harry Redd and Kathy Naff of the Merit System Protection Board will talk about taking the collective pulse of 2.9 million federal workers, and what the survey results mean. Early Retirement

Would you really leave early? Although most workers want the early-out option, relatively few take the money and run when given the chance. The early-retirement decision depends on a number of factors, such as whether the employee has a white-collar or blue-collar job, pending legislation, and even whether the early-out is offered in hot or cold weather. For a look at early-outs, check this space Sunday.