Federal workers looking for a four-day Christmas weekend are advised to keep their hopes high and their expectations somewhat lower.

Because Christmas falls on a Tuesday, many have called to ask if they will get Monday, Dec. 24, off. Some have said they need time to make plans, and asked if we would give President Bush a nudge. Their faith in the power of the press is commendable.

Local merchants would love for 360,000 federal workers to get an extra shopping day. For that matter, police and Metro officials would like to know too, for traffic planning purposes.

But because the president has his hands full -- a Latin American diplomatic tour, the Persian Gulf crisis and an economic downturn -- consider this a with-all-due-respect kind of nudge.

Some recent holiday

history:

In 1986, when Christmas fell on a Thursday, President Reagan gave federal employees a day off that Friday.

But in 1984, the last time Christmas was on a Tuesday, the director of the Office of Personnel Management didn't recommend extra time off. Workers who wanted

Monday off had to take a vacation day.

Bear in mind the president won't lose many votes beyond the Beltway if he doesn't grant the bonus holiday. And whatever he decides, it probably won't be announced until the last minute, nudges notwithstanding. uf mefolo,6aHealth Insurance Deadline

Federal workers and retirees have until Monday to pick a health plan. If you're one of the undecided, you can do several things:

Get back issues of this column at your library. On Nov. 13, the subject was best-buys for singles. The next day it was family health coverage. On Nov. 20, we listed best buys for Capitol Hill, Secret Service, Foreign Service officers and law enforcement personnel. Nov. 28 dealt with dental coverage. Nov. 30 was about best health plans for federal retirees.

Pick up the "Open Season Guide" or "Checkbook's Guide To Health Insurance Plans" at area drugstores and bookstores. They explain the best buys for workers and retirees.

Tune into WNTR radio (1050 AM) at noon tomorrow and talk with Walton Francis, who wrote the Checkbook health plan guide. He will answer questions from last-minute shoppers. uf mefolo,6aPeople

Irene Heppner is retiring from the Smithsonian Institution. She joined its art library in 1971, at the age of 67, after a career with the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Thomas C. Lindamood has retired from the Defense Communications Agency after 42 years of federal service. He got the Pentagon's top civilian service award for his work in designing the Defense Department's voice communications network, called Autovan. Top Cops

Some of the government's best criminal investigators will be honored tonight at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. John Walsh of "America's Most Wanted" television fame, and OPM Director Constance B. Newman will speak. The black-tie dinner is sponsored by the Association of Federal Investigators.