Thousands of men here, at the headquarters of the federal government, cannot get a federal job because they haven't registered with the Selective Service System. Any who got jobs by lying about their registration status could be fired and lose all benefits, if found out.

That could be a major problem here. Washington, where the government is the most stable and largest employer, has one of the lowest registration-compliance rates of any city.

Army Reserve Maj. Arrington Dixon is heading a program to educate young men here about the pitfalls of failing to register. He's the former chairman of the D.C. Council who is now head of the local Selective Service reserve unit. His former wife, Sharon Pratt Dixon, is now D.C.'s mayor. "Registration is the law!" he said. "In addition, these young men {who fail to register} could be barred from taking advantage of all kinds of federally funded benefits," ranging from government loans for houses to drug rehabilitation programs and educational loans. "And after age 26, if they haven't complied, they can't go back and register," he added.

Most people are aware of the criminal penalties -- a $250,000 fine and five years in jail -- for failing to register, even though the draft ended in 1973. Men must register within a month of their 18th birthday (through age 26) unless they are on active military duty, are in prison, are incapacitated or are foreign diplomatic personnel. Registration-age men released from prison must sign up within 10 days. Even illegal aliens must register if they are living here.

Because of the Persian Gulf War more attention is being paid to registration. Officials said that American men were drafted every year, except 1947, from 1940 through 1973, when the all-volunteer military concept was adopted.

The Washington Times yesterday reported the low compliance rate. Selective Service uses estimates, rather than hard numbers, to track compliance. Spokesman Lew Brodsky said, "We remain concerned about the lower registration compliance in Washington, D.C., when compared to other cities." He declined to rank cities, but said Washington is "significantly below" most other cities in compliance. He blamed it in part on the unusually high school dropout rate here. "Most of the information about . . . registration comes through high school or contacts with peers in school," he said.

The metropolitan Washington area has 360,000 federal employees. While many federal jobs require special skills, there are a variety of job programs aimed at helping inner-city youths earn money to build work histories. But officials fear that many who could benefit most won't be eligible because of failure to register.

Retirement Options

Hundreds of 1990 retirees must soon decide whether they want a lump-sum benefit or a bigger pension. Many retirement-age workers are looking for investments and tax benefits that will allow them to retire as soon as possible and with as much money as possible. Tomorrow at noon on WNTR radio, 1050 AM, financial planner Paul Yurachek talks about strategic retirement planning.