Federal workers who win major government or private awards may now take a spouse or other individual "related by blood or affinity" to attend an awards ceremony with them at government expense.

Most employees are unaware of the policy change approved last summer by the Office of Personnel Management. OPM said it is all right for agencies to pay transportation costs for a spouse, relative or close friend, to accompany the winner to important awards events.

Before the change, anyone traveling with a federal worker to an awards event paid his or her own way, even if it was a White House command performance. Individuals traveling with disabled award winners have been reimbursed in the past.

The new rules give agencies authority to approve paid travel for one person who "can be an individual related by blood or affinity, whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship . . . . "

A dozen agencies requested OPM guidance after a 1989 General Accounting Office decision that, in effect, reversed federal policy barring such paid travel. GAO gave the Interior Department permission to pay the $536 round-trip airfare of a woman who accompanied her husband from Denver to receive a presidential rank award here.

The National Treasury Employees Union says that OPM adopted its proposal that unrelated companions be included in the new travel rules.

"We're proud to be responsible for such a . . . standard that doesn't discriminate against unmarried employees," said NTEU President Robert Tobias. "All employees, not just married ones, should be able to share in an important moment like receiving an award with a very important person in their lives."

Officials say the new rules could allow agencies to reimburse the travel of a gay companion, or simply a friend, to accompany a government award winner. "It's really an agency call whether to honor a request" for a companion's travel reimbursement, an official said. "The purpose of OPM's decision was to develop a government-wide policy in light of the GAO ruling."

Taxes/Financial Planning

Income tax time presents some special problems for federal workers and retirees: Should they take the lump-sum pension option? What if they've already taken it? What about the tax-refund lawsuit brought by Virginia-based federal retirees? Tomorrow at noon on WNTR radio (1050 AM) Suzanne McClelland and John Sullivan will talk about 1990 federal and state taxes and about financial planning.

NAGC Inauguration

Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. will swear in the new officers of the capital chapter of the National Association of Government Communicators in his office next week. The chapter's new leaders are Margaret McBride, Army Reserve; Ben Cromer, Voice of America; Chris Kelly, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology; Barbi Richardson, Selective Service System; Elee Erice, Interior; Robert Weed, administrative assistant to Rep. Craig James (R-Fla.); and Lyman Coddington, Office of Thrift Supervision.