Politicians who cooked the fiscal 2000 books to "save" $3.6 billion were terribly clever. But their fiscal fiddling--which will delay the September paychecks of thousands of federal and military personnel--isn't going over well with the designated sufferers.

Congress, as reported in the Federal Diary on Dec. 16, needed to save money in this fiscal year. So, with White House approval, it legalized a delay in federal/military paychecks due the last Thursday or Friday of September 2000. Those folks will be paid Oct. 2--moving the expenditure into the next fiscal year.

Try paying your federal taxes late and see what happens!

The paycheck delay will affect most military personnel and Public Health Service commissioned corps officers. Also civilians with the Coast Guard, the Departments of Labor and Veterans Affairs and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Some staff members of the House of Representatives also will be paid late.

Members of Congress--who won't be affected by any pay delay--figured that the fiscal sleight of hand wouldn't be noticed until they left town.

And besides, what's the big deal about being paid late?

Plenty, according to some ticked-off military personnel and civil servants. Especially those whose mortgage payments are due the first of each month.

Here are some reader reactions:

* "Regarding the military-civilian pay delay . . . Where are the unions? What a sham for Congress to do to us what they would not allow others to do to them. They raise their salaries, and taxes, then tell us 'sorry, we do not have enough for you.' "

-- Stuck in limbo

* "I have a set, every 14 days mortgage payment plan. In other words, every 14 days my mortgage company automatically withdraws money from my bank account which receives my direct deposit paycheck. Will the payroll sleight of hand affect this arrangement, because this is a significant amount of money each payday?"

-- A.J.M.

* "The actual effect of the delay may be more severe on a lot of people than you suggest. Many feds who have their wages paid via direct deposit of their paychecks normally have access on the Monday preceding the Thursday pay date. These feds will have what amounts to a three-week gap between paydays, and that will cause more temporary hardship than it ought to."

-- Mike Stamler

* "As a military member, I pay my bills on time, every time. I have entered into agreements that require me to pay my mortgage, insurance and investments on the FIRST of the month, NOT the SECOND. I have never made a late payment because all of those payments are made by allotment from my paycheck. If my paycheck is not deposited into my account until Oct. 2 I will not have met my obligations. How are we to meet our financial obligations when the federal government can't meet its obligations and keeps changing the pay rules?"

-- Military officer

* "Sure, it's 'only' $3.6 billion. But to Velma the Voter down at the cafe, it SOUNDS like a lot. Leave it to the politicians to do this in the election season."

-- Mike Mitchell

* "You're absolutely right about the nation's law enforcers moving quickly against a [private-sector] nonfederal employer who attempted this fraud."

-- Paul Harrington, retired IRS employee

* "Your article pointed out that the government had not dared try a hand-waving delay of Social Security payments or other entitlements. Another reason they can't do this with military retirement pay is that they already did it . . . in 1984. They moved the payment day from the 30th of the month to the first. They advertised it as a win-win deal. For that one year we got only 11 checks and thus our taxable income for THAT year was reduced . . . and this with only one check 'late' by a couple of days."

-- Gerald Sheldon

* "The appeal to self-pity in your piece was exquisite. Implicitly, any federal worker can now equate this purported monstrous injustice of a weekend delay in their paychecks with the sacrifices of [World War I and World War II heroes] Sgt. Alvin York or Audie Murphy. . . . But who would expect otherwise from The Washington Post, the bulletin board of the permanent government?"

-- Mike Lofgren

* "I won't shoot the messenger (you) regarding the delay of paying government and military personnel. But in my opinion, it would make more sense to delay the checks of government handouts such as Social Security, welfare, etc., rather than from the people who are working to earn their money."

-- Jim Hanrahan

* "Delaying paychecks is just another example of the inept leadership of our government, screwing the very people who defend this nation. . . . If this 'savings tactic' works, they will probably try to delay next year's checks by a week, or maybe more. Where will it stop?"

-- Leroy E. Morrow

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