In some places, folks are preparing for the end of the world. According to their Day-Timers, it will either be Dec. 31 or Jan. 1.

Most people are more optimistic. But many are preparing for spotty power failures that could result from year 2000 computer problems. The be-prepared types are stocking up on extra cash, medicine, batteries, canned food and water--as if they might have to ride out a rough winter storm.

But in some federal offices here and elsewhere, a few cockeyed optimists anticipate a $50,000 bonus, or at least an extra long weekend, as a New Year's gift. The rumors are based on "news" reports posted on the Internet and circulated via e-mail.

Folks who started the rumors are either hard of heart or soft of head. Both involve high-level "secret" plans, with the media in on the "coverup."

Consider these e-mails, which are typical of recent queries from feds--mostly from outside Washington--about a Y2K surprise:

* "I work with the U.S. Corps of Engineers (DOD) and am ready to retire the end of December. . . . I've heard rumors that federal management wants to close out the old retirement system (CSRS). To do so they will offer a one-time option in the upcoming year to CSRS employees: A) Retire with a $50,000 bonus, or B) Transfer to the Federal Employees Retirement System.

"Do you have any information on that rumor?" Short answer: Not true!

Or this one:

"Our HR [human resources] office won't answer this question. As I understand it, Congress has passed a bill that will force everyone in the Civil Service Retirement System to either retire with a $50,000 bonus or be forced into the Federal Employees Retirement System. Can you shed any light on this?" Short answer: Not true.

Details to follow. First the long weekend rumor.

It's wrong, says John Christopher Bua, spokesman for the Office of Personnel Management, the lead agency in coordinating federal personnel activities for Y2K. He says: "Federal employees need to know that there are currently no plans to grant any additional official time off because of Y2K issues. . . . December 25, 1999, and January 1, 2000, both fall on a Saturday. For most federal employees, the preceding Friday of each of those two holidays will be treated as a holiday for pay and leave purposes. And no other days off are expected to be announced."

The other Y2K rumor, about a big retirement bonus, is also false. But older. It's been around for 30 years. When it first was sprung on feds, it said Congress had passed "secret legislation" to lure feds to retire. The bait: Five years would be added to everyone's age and service time. There also would be a $5,000 bonus.

That rumor has been adjusted for inflation and is now making the rounds of the Internet and e-mail circuit. According to the 1999 version, the amount of the golden handshake is $50,000.

It should be noted that the vast majority of feds are too busy to circulate or pay any attention to the rumors. But some have fallen under the spell of the rumors and keep asking for confirmation.

Buyouts More than a dozen federal agencies--making up about half the civilian federal work force--now have the authority from Congress to offer employees buyouts. Most agencies also have separate authority to offer workers early retirement (at age 50 with 20 years' service or at any age with 25 years' service). Normal retirement under the CSRS is age 55 with 30 years of service, 60 with 20 years' service or age 62 with five years' service.

Buyouts have been authorized for Defense, NASA, Agriculture, Internal Revenue Service, General Services Administration, Bonneville Power Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, the Architect of the Capitol and Government Printing Office and for two small units of the Treasury Department.

Those buyouts--worth up to $25,000 before deductions--are the only payments any employees will get to take regular or early retirement.

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

Sunday, Dec. 5, 1999