And now the moment many of you have not waited for. The downside of Operation Clothes Horse, our search for the best-dressed and worst-dressed federal agencies.

It wasn't easy. There were so many nominations.

Most of the "worst" votes were split among Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control centers, Social Security and Internal Revenue Service centers and Coast Guard headquarters. The common theme was that casual dress has gone beyond the outer limits.

But there is shame enough to go around. Even the sharper-image FBI got one gig. It came from an agent who alleged that the director (whose name is being withheld pending notification of his next of kin, Mrs. Louis J. Freeh) "shines his shoes with a Hershey bar." In an excellent career move, the agent, like many other contributors, declined a byline.

Some comments on bad sartorial habits:

* An IRS worker says: "In my short time in government, I would have to say the worst-dressed feds may be found in IRS Service centers. Some come to work in outfits not fit for public display."

* Dozens of correspondents begged for a "dress code," as soon as possible, for Social Security offices.

* "Agriculture is the worst," writes L.D. Pletcher ". . . And I don't go for the theory that they don't make enough money. . . . [Some] show up in baggy sweats, stained, really cruddy looking. . . . Others show up in outfits that would not be appropriate for a day of sightseeing. . . . We need a dress code."

* State Department women are chic, says LaTanya Perry, "but the men can't get out of the 1960s with their old suits." And Mike Meszaros and friends enjoy watching "old Foreign Service officers wearing safari suits [and] civil servants wearing lime-green suits."

* The Defense Logistics Agency, a staffer says, is home to "stiletto heels, comb-overs . . . [and] the ever-popular gravy-stained cartoon tie. The fashion police," he says," would put us on Death Row."

* Betty C. says that the Labor Department has some good dressers but that most need some help. Her unfavorites: "Micro miniskirts . . . lumpy Spandex . . . and attorneys who wear the same pair of pants all week."

* Just Plain Kathy says the reason neckties at the General Service Administration seem short is because they "have to stretch over a massive surplus in stomach circumference."

* The men of NASA get a thumbs down from retiree Pete Smith. He says the agency invented "the full Cleveland look," which he describes as "white patent leather shoes with matching belt." [Since my big boss, Leonard Downie Jr., is from Cleveland, I take strong issue with Smith's comments.]

* "Check out an FAA air traffic control facility," pleads Richard May. "If the general public saw the way some of these 'professionals' dress, they would probably wonder if they stumbled onto the 'Bay Watch' set."

* One reader said most National Science Foundation workers are either scientists "who do not care about anything but science, or . . . support staff, most of whom may not be able to afford to wear anything better than sweat pants . . . or grubby, baggy jeans."

* In a nod to the legislative branch, R.P. said: "I would like to nominate any place Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. might be. He's the best worst-dressed in our nation's capital."

* Lynn Hulett says it's a "no-brainer. The worst-dressed feds have to be schlepping around the U.S. Geological Survey headquarters in Reston."

* Susan L. says agencies need a dress code. "When I worked at the IRS, personnel there would wear Spandex and flip-flops . . . [and] some looked like they were going to a disco . . . or on winter days, it looked as though they wore their pajamas."

* Steven H. says, "It's a toss up between the retro-flannel tree huggers at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard for institutionalizing the short-sleeve, baby-blue, thin-fabric chic and for having the worst shoes."

* Nicholas Dujmovic suffers flashbacks from the years he worked for "the most sartorially challenged federal agency, the U.S. Coast Guard."

* A.D. Robe says of dress standards, "If Spandex sweat pants and tank tops are banned . . . we will no longer need the phrase 'hostile [work] environment.' " Robe also tells of a job-related nightmare: "I got on an elevator and blended in with everyone else."

Retirements Personnel specialist Georgie Nance is retiring from the Census Bureau after 34 years of federal service. She started with the Veterans Administration as an audiologist.

Grace S. Johnson is retiring as chief of the Army Research Laboratory's wellness center after 31 years of federal service.

The Senate Finance Committee's chief editor, Bruce Anderson, is retiring after 42 years of federal service, the last 32 with the powerful buck-starts-here committee.

The Naval Surface Warfare Center is losing the management skills of Blanche Elias McQuade, a 45-year fed. She started as a GS 3 with the old Bureau of Ships.

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

Friday, Dec. 24, 1999