Someone once observed that where one stands depends upon where one sits. That bit of wisdom could be expanded to include that an individual's stance is often based on where that person works and lives.

For most Americans, the nation is divided into two parts:

1) Inside the Beltway. Also known as Disneyland East, Wonkland-on-Potomac, Fat City, etc.

2) Outside the Beltway. This is where men are still real men, women still real women and common sense is king. The federal government even has a name for this vast area: RUS (as in "Rest of U.S.").

Thanks to the Internet and The Washington Post-Los Angeles Times news service, items in this newspaper (such as the Federal Diary) appear in many publications and can be called up, and downloaded, all over the world. The result of syndication, and now Washingtonpost.com, has been lots more mail and e-mail from lots of places outside the Capital Beltway. It is always educational, if not always fun, to read.

Today's first two offerings illustrate the difference in viewpoints about a touchy local subject--federal pay--from someone inside the Beltway region, contrasted by the views of someone from RUS (in this case, Henderson, Nev.).

The follow-up letter, in our Monday Morning Quarterback section, comes from a former top federal official, now retired. Many retirees are angry because their pending January cost-of-living adjustment is "only" 2.3 percent while health premiums are going up an average of 9.3 percent. He presents what he hopes is a little perspective.

First, federal pay:

* "In reference to your 'For Federal Workers, a Pay Raise--and a Whole Lot More' article. You sure make it sound FANTASTIC to work for the federal government. And yes, we will receive all those benefits come January 2000. But you know the best part? Our salaries are still 17 percent less than our private sector counterparts.

"Not only that, but we don't receive annual bonuses of up to 10 percent on our FANTASTIC annual salary. And even after that HUGE pay raise you talk about, the federal government still has active military and civilian personnel in certain areas that qualify for food stamps. I know that you need something to write about, but please try and keep it a little more in context and provide all the facts, not just the parts that make me sound overpaid."

J.L. Connor

Same subject, from RUS (outside the Beltway):

* "Is anybody in government interested in anything other than salary comparability with the private sector? In the private sector it is common to pay people for their innovative performance serving the needs and value of their customers. Many of us outside the beltway think of federal employees as clones for an already outdated and inflexible bureaucratic structure that is totally unable to understand the needs and values of customers, much less serve them. Most private sector firms that expect to survive in the 21st century are reinventing themselves to deal with the rapidly changing dynamics of the new economy, while the public sector continues to think up new and innovative ways to feed at the public table.

"Is there no shame left inside the beltway?"

Albert Cole, Henderson, Nev.

Finally, this note from a fed who is just a few miles outside the Beltway:

* "Federal retirees need to keep in perspective all that we have when complaining about perceived losses of benefits. Let me say at the outset that I have a substantial annuity and many do not. Also that I believe that we need to protect our hard-earned benefits. But we do need to understand our situation vs. the majority of Americans in expressing our concerns about our retirement benefits. Let's take stock:

"1) We receive annual cost of living adjustments while most private sector retirees do not.

"2) We receive annuities that are virtually guaranteed while many others do not have this security; just ask the retirees from Pan American Airways!

"3) Our health benefits, even with rising costs, are the retiree 'gold standard.' They are guaranteed. We can change health plans each year to more favorably cover preexisting conditions. And we have an appeal process to the Office of Personnel Management.

"We must of course stay vigilant to protect these benefits, but at the same time avoid appearing greedy to the public which can have such a profound impact on ALL of our benefits."

Joe Maas

Monday, Oct. 11, 1999