Remember the budget fiasco last fall? While Congress and the White House played fiscal chicken, millions of federal workers got furlough notices. Tourists were turned away from the Washington Monument and national parks closed because of the politically induced lack of money. Morale slumped in federal agencies because of the prospect of payless paydays.

In typical Washington style, politicians blamed the other party for failing to meet the budget deadline. Nobody responsible for passing the budget on time lost a nickel. And despite media hype about an anti-incumbent backlash most officeholders returned, and House members got a 25 percent raise in January.

First comes a Monday morning quarterback who suggests a performance pay system for politicians. The mailbag also brings a letter from a local worker who wonders why Washington was excluded from the special 8 percent cost-of-living raise granted to federal workers in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Here goes:

"What this country needs is a new law . . . that provides for an automatic continuing resolution at the start of the fiscal year that will maintain government services until a budget is passed.

"The law should also provide that the president, agency heads, senators and representatives will not get paid or receive expense money for every day -- beginning Oct. 1 -- for which there is no budget for the new fiscal year. This would amount to at least $500 per day for congressmen and more for the president. Since one of the most important duties of our elected leaders is to provide a fiscally sound operating budget, they should not get paid if they do not produce one.

"The players {politicians} would then be playing with their own money. Perhaps the budget game would have more meaning to them! They would have a greater sense of urgency. Every taxpayer should demand this legislation. It would be a first step toward balancing the budget." Vincent A., Springfield

"An irony of the new per diem rates {Dec. 14 Federal Diary} is the fact that Washington, D.C., has a daily expense account rate of $131 for federal travelers while Los Angeles and San Francisco have rates of $124 and $122, respectively.

"Assuming these rates reflect the cost of living in the respective cities, why did Los Angeles and San Francisco rate an 8 percent pay differential when their per diem rates are 5.5 percent and 6.9 percent lower than Washington, D.C. The only non-resort location with a higher per diem than Washington is New York City, at $151.

"Federal employees in D.C. get it both ways. They didn't get the 8 percent differential even though the cost of living is clearly on a par with the two California cities. And they get a lower per diem when traveling to the 'high cost' cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Meanwhile, Los Angeles and San Francisco federal employees get a nice fat per diem when they come to Washington, in addition to their nice little 8 percent raise. Politics can be a thing of beauty." Steven W. Brennan, Alexandria