Legislators representing nearly 400,000 area federal workers have asked how come their folks are left out of the bonus 8 percent pay raise that President Bush has authorized next month for U.S. white-collar employees in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Under the new federal pay law, the president authorized raises in those three cities in addition to the 4.1 percent those employees and other white-collar government workers will get in January. The 12.1 percent boost will pay some New York and California federal workers higher wages than their bosses back here at headquarters. It will also dramatically raise their pensions, which are based on salary and length of service.

The what-about-us letter to the president notes that Washington and Baltimore rank as high-cost cities and meet all the criteria necessary to merit the special raise. It was signed by Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), and Reps. Constance A. Morella (R-Md.), Tom McMillen (D-Md.), Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Beverly B. Byron (D-Md.) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.).

The letter praised the president for using his special geographic pay authority. But it noted a General Accounting Office study showing that private industry workers are paid about 20 percent more than their federal counterparts here and about 19 percent more in Baltimore.

There are 360,000 federal workers in the Washington area. About 18,000 of them are blue-collar workers (who will also get the 4.1 percent raise). Another 12,000 work for the U.S. Postal Service. More than 52,000 others -- mostly clerical workers, engineers and scientists -- already get special pay rates that are 2 percent to 30 percent higher than others in their grades. Those special-raters also will get the 4.1 percent January increase.

Federal officials have estimated that giving an additional 8 percent raise to workers here would cost $738 million a year, on top of the more than $300 million the 4.1 percent raise for them will cost. They say that giving the raises to 58,000 white-collar workers in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles (who have a lower average salary than their Washington counterparts) is less costly and more deserved because living costs are higher there and federal recruiting is tougher in those cities. Good Question!

A reader asks about the new federal per diem rates published here Friday. He notes that the government lists Washington as a $131-per-day expenses town. San Francisco is listed as a $122-per-diem town. "So how can the government give cost-of-living raises to San Francisco and deny them to Washington?" he asked. It's a good question. I didn't say I had the answer.Retirements, Promotions

Did elimination of the lump-sum pension benefit push many federal workers into retirement? You bet! Does that open up promotion opportunities for younger workers? Check this space tomorrow for the numbers.