The federal fashion police have spoken: Secret Service agents sport the best duds.

Our poll (with a margin of error of plus or minus 50 percentage points) also shows that some other U.S. offices are places of sartorial splendor. At the same time, still many others may resemble the audition room at Clown College.

Our survey, Operation Clothes Horse, started Dec. 13. Readers were asked to rate best-and-worst dressed agencies. The Secret Service won top honors.

The poll was inspired by reader comments on the style (or lack of same) of their colleagues. Example:

A contractor said that entering the General Services Administration--which he described as a sea of short-sleeve shirts and high-water pants--sent chills up his Guccis.

A veteran of seven U.S. agencies said that law enforcement agencies were sharpest and that the Office of Personnel Management, uh, wasn't.

Tomorrow, the Federal Diary will reveal the worst-dressed results. Today's comments are more positive:

* "It's not even close. Agents of the U.S. Secret Service are for sure the best dressed. . . . We have a professional image to uphold, and the peer pressure keeps us up on fashion," Robert Brenner says.

* "I happened to be married to one of those [Drug Enforcement Administration] men who thinks he is a walking advertisement for GQ magazine," writes Witness Protection Wife. "I need/must/have to remain anonymous otherwise I might forfeit my yearly ration of clothing if exposed!"

* "Best-dressed . . . hands down are employed by the Customs Service," writes John P. Connelly, who says he also has worked for DEA, General Services Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Secret Service and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. He adds that the GSA has "the worst dressers in the federal service."

* "Under cloak of deep secrecy," writes Madam X, "I name the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as hosting the best-dressed feds driving the latest in luxury vehicles. Our parking garage looks like a lot for Lexus, BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. . . . Trend of the moment: vacations in Hawaii and laser eye surgery."

* Gary Morris, himself an Internal Revenue Service man, says the "best looking and neatest feds in town are the Uniformed Division of the U.S. Secret Service. . . . They project a positive image of the U.S. on behalf of the rest of us."

* Just Plain Steve writes: "Secret Service has the best-dressed crew. DEA, you have got to be kidding!!! They usually have food stains . . . as a result of sitting in cars, eating fast food while on surveillances. Customs??? Soiled duds as a result of exotic animal droppings."

* Connie Harshaw, who has worked for eight agencies, says, "I never knew feds could dress so well" till she moved to the National Capital Planning Commission.

* Of the Defense Logistics Support Command at Fort Belvoir, James Cotton comments: "Most men wear suits and ties. . . . Most women wear business suits. . . . Business casual Fridays are an oxymoron."

* Mike Rae votes Securities and Exchange Commission attorneys as best-dressed because they "constantly meet" with corporate lawyers and take pride in looking as good as the higher-priced private-sector types.

* "While I agree with the informant in your Dec. 13 column about OPM in the old days, my recent visits indicate times have changed," Bill Smith says. "I see a better overall dress code. . . . Do you suppose [Director] Janice Lachance sets the standard?"

* Secret Service is the best dressed. . . . FBI is not far behind because of the dictums left behind by J. Edgar Hoover. The rest of the government agency's are probably tied for worst," says IRS Special Agent William J. Pyfer.

* Former DEA agent John Marcello says in his day, folks dressed up for court but were more casual in the field. "DEA agents in New York city were the best dressed cuz they had the connections for suits." And used them.

* In separate notes, Veronica Branch and Christina Gross, said the State Department, because of its overseas mission, has the best-dressed employees.

* Tanya L. Ramey said that Defense Department civilians look good but the military--especially Marines in dress uniforms--are the sharpest of them all.

Reservation Canceled

OPM Director Lachance canceled a contract yesterday with the Adams Mark Hotel in Denver. The hotel was to host the giant SOELR (Symposium on Employee and Labor Relations) conference March 7-10. Lachance said she acted because of a recent Justice Department lawsuit alleging race discrimination on the part of the hotel chain. "I cannot ignore these troubling allegations that offend the sensibilities of all Americans," Lachance said.

OPM says it will find another time and place for the conference, which will bring nearly 1,000 human resources professionals (and their per-diem payments) together.

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

Thursday, Dec. 23, 1999