About 5,800 of the District government's 32,000 employees have--or will get--bonus checks this week of $1,700 per person, before deductions. The payments go to a variety of unionized employees, from sanitation workers to professionals. The payments grew out of a contract agreement the city made with unions in 1997. Unions accepted a pay freeze and furloughs in return for the right to reopen the contract for many union employees if finances improved.

Workers got a 3.7 percent raise in 1998 and a 2.8 percent raise in October. Under the reopener clause, workers in Compensation Levels 1 and 2 received the bonuses because of city's budget surplus.

D.C. officials stress that the bonuses are not payment for the pay freeze or furloughs, which hit many more city employees during the District's hard financial times.

While eligible employees--98 percent of whom belong to one of a half-dozen unions--are getting pre-Christmas bonuses, their federal civil service cousins are still wondering what will be in their paychecks next year.

Congress and the White House authorized an average 4.8 percent increase for white-collar civilian federal workers and a 4.8 percent across-the-board increase for military personnel. But the president has the option to allocate part of the civilian pay raise for locality adjustments.

The amount earmarked for locality pay will determine the total amount of raises in various metropolitan areas. All employees will get the same national adjustment. But the pool of money designated by the president for locality raises will be divided up based on the official "pay gap" between federal and private-sector pay on a city-by-city basis.

Some alleged insiders expect (as I do) that the president will set the national increase at 3.8 percent, with the remaining percentage point going to locality pay. Under such a scenario, federal workers in the Washington- Baltimore area would get a total raise of just over 4.9 percent next month. But we have been wrong before (lots of times), and it is the president's call.

White-collar federal workers in the Washington-Baltimore area generally have gotten bigger raises than colleagues in such cities as Norfolk and Richmond but smaller raises than those in Houston, New York City, San Francisco and other places. The amount diverted to locality pay will continue those pay differentials.

The Washington-Baltimore pay area includes most of Maryland, much of Virginia and all of the District and Baltimore. It includes two counties in West Virginia but not, despite what some federal workers think, any part of Pennsylvania. The area has about 250,000 white-collar federal workers.

But until the locality issue is settled, agencies can't compute (much less distribute) pay tables.

Alaska, Hawaii Pay

Federal workers who don't qualify for locality pay also have a stake in how the 4.8 percent is divided. Workers in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands get differentials--but not locality pay raises. So if the pot is divided 3.8 percentage points and 1 percentage point--as predicted above--they will be limited to a 3.8 percent adjustment.

Investments and Investigations

Federal and postal workers have until the end of January to join the thrift savings plan or to reallocate future payroll contributions. At present, employees can choose from a stock-index, bond-index or Treasury securities fund. For the 12-month period that ended in November, the C-fund (stocks) returned 20.79 percent, the F-fund (bonds) lost 0.10 percent, and the G-fund (Treasury securities) returned 5.88 percent. Beginning in May, investors will have two new options to consider: a small capitalization index fund and an international stock index fund.

At 9 a.m. tomorrow on WUST (1120 AM), financial planner Paul Yurachek will discuss the thrift savings plan and other investment options. He also will talk about things people can still do to cut their 1999 taxes.

At 10 a.m. on WUST, Steve Alpern, director of the Merit Systems Protection Board's Office of Appeals Counsel, will talk about recent decisions of the board.

Office of Special Counsel

I wounded most if not all of the Office of Special Counsel staff in Wednesday's column. The column confused the OSC with a similar-sounding, but very different, outfit that is part of the Federal Labor Relations Authority. It is not good to do anything that makes 90 very sharp lawyers, professionals and support staff members angry, hence this apology.

In fact OSC, which has powers to investigate and prosecute unfair labor practice cases, is a stand-alone agency.

The rule of thumb in the newspaper business is that one or two mistakes are made with every attempt at a correction. Watch this space!

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