When you write a column that outlines a multimillion-dollar back pay settlement for thousands of current and former federal workers, it gets lots of attention.

For some of the lucky past and present federal employees, the amounts will be in the tens of thousands of dollars--even after taxes. It is sort of like winning the lottery.

To be eligible, people have to have been a government engineer, scientist or someone else paid a "special rate." And those special-raters had to be on the federal payroll sometime, any time, between 1982 and 1988. That takes in lots of people--perhaps as many as 200,000.

The first Federal Diary on the subject appeared in, uh, the late 1980s.

It was true then. And it is true now.

But thousands of hopefuls--including some who have no reason to hope--are still waiting. Nobody has received a nickel in the back pay settlement, even though Uncle Sam has said the money is in the pipeline.

The settlement is a perfect example of what people mean when they say the devil is in the details.

Here's the deal: From 1982 to 1988, the government stopped giving regular civil service pay raises automatically to thousands of special rate federal workers. Because of their hard-to-fill jobs, they were already paid 3 percent to 30 percent more than other federal employees in the same grade levels but in different occupations. In some cases, special rates were paid by occupation--such as engineer and scientist--and in some cases, on a geographic basis. For instance, Grade 2 through 7 clerical workers in the Washington area are in the special rate category.

The National Treasury Employees Union took the issue to court. After many battles, at many levels, the government lost. It agreed to give the special-raters the money they had not received during the 1982-88 period. But it has taken years for the courts, the government and the union to find a mutually acceptable formula for determining who is owed what. Not to mention what happens to people who are dead, who have left their government jobs or changed their names because of marriage or whatever.

A Federal Diary on the subject appeared Aug. 1, listing the union's special rate hot line number. Two things happened: Lots of people called. The line melted down because of so many calls.

Thanks to that column and word of mouth, lots of people who have no claim to the back pay are trolling for dollars. Some weren't special-raters during the 1982-88 period. Others weren't special-raters ever. Some never worked for the government, but they heard that Uncle Sam was about to pass out money and thought they'd give it a shot.

The NTEU, having learned a lesson about phone hot lines, has set up a Web page with information on the situation. The union points out that there are no claim forms to file, no lists to join and no action people to ensure payment. For updates, the address is: www.nteu.org/Specrates.html.

And did we say be patient?

Park Police Jobs There are two immediate job openings at U.S. Park Police. One is for a Grade 12 ($48,796 to $63,463) personnel officer and a Grade 11 ($40,714 to $52,927) employee relations specialist. Send applications to the Human Resources Office, National Park Service, 1100 Ohio Dr. SW. Room 244, Washington, D.C. 20242. Or call Frances Liverpool at 202-619-7256.

D.C. Government Jobs The District government has openings for statisticians, epidemiologists, investigators, social workers, supervisory human services licensing specialists and nurse consultants. Send applications to Samuel Calvin Carthorn, 801 North Capitol St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20002. For information, call 202-442-8805.

Executive Women The Agriculture Department's Diane Gelburd has been elected president of Executive Women in Government. Other new officers are Anna Dixon, Treasury Department; Mary Ellen Condon, Justice Department; Kathy Gugulis; and Chris Carpino, Agriculture Department. Executive board members are Deidre Lee, Office of Management and Budget; Lynne M. Holloway, General Accounting Office; Naomi Zeavin, former presidential adviser to the arts; Judith Welles, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.; Ellen Wagner, General Services Administration; Barbara Osgood, Agriculture; and Kay Goss, Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Dec. 31, 1999 December and January are popular months for federal workers to retire. So why is Dec. 31, 1999, rather than Jan. 1, 2000, the better retirement date for most federal and postal workers? For details, check the Federal Diary tomorrow.

Mike Causey's e-mail address is causeym@washpost.com

Thursday, Oct. 21, 1999