Did you ever fantasize about earning a big-city salary in a small town where costs are lower and a steady job is a passport to the good life?

Even at an average of $38,000 a year, many Washington area federal workers are hard-pressed to make ends meet. Nevertheless, the financial problems of our town's 360,000 government employees get little sympathy beyond the Capital Beltway, where costs and salaries often are much lower and jobs are rare.

Various commissions, boards and blue-ribbon panels have studied the pay imbalance problem. The new federal pay law promises to make things better for big-city workers -- but not for some years.

Meantime, a government worker who is a native Washingtonian offers a plan to improve the quality of life for local federal employees, without a raise. His idea:

Transplant most federal functions to communities across the nation, leaving only a skeleton staff here to deal with Congress.

Our Monday Morning Quarterback wonders why the Agriculture Department is in downtown Washington, not Iowa or Kansas, and whether it would make more sense to put the Bureau of Mines in coal country and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in New Mexico.

Here is his move-you-out proposal:

"Here's an alternative to increases in base pay . . . designed to create a better way of life for civil servants by moving the majority of the bureaucracy out of the Washington area.

"Leave only the minimal staff that perform the political functions with Congress. With the advent of computers and telecommunications, the majority of the government functions could be performed anywhere in the U.S. Why not have states with a lower cost of living provide, for free, land and office space to meet the needs of federal organizations? Then move the organizations out of this high-cost, congested area.

"The states would benefit financially, in the long term, from the additional guaranteed federal incomes as well as additional federal spending to maintain the office in that area.

"Federal spending would no longer be concentrated in the D.C. metro area. And federal employees would be able to stretch their current salaries in these lower-cost areas. Yes, there is a one-time cost to relocate . . . but this plan would provide several major cost savings for the years to come:

"Rent would be lower in the other areas . . . and relocated employees wouldn't require base pay raises in lower-cost areas. There would be no need to build more roads in the D.C. metro area, or a bigger Metrorail system, all extremely high-ticket items that favor only one small area of the U.S. -- D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia. The cost savings to the government would be extremely high and {there would be} a more equitable sharing of federal dollars throughout the country. A better way of life would be available for the federal employee, creating a more productive, efficient and effective work environment." Robert E. Cobert Chantilly