Most Republican politicians (at least those from outside the Washington area) probably believe that the typical federal civil servant leans toward the Democratic Party.

Most Democratic politicians (from outside this area) would probably agree.

But anybody who attempts to politically pigeonhole 4 million active and retired federal workers--from janitors to physicists who live and work throughout the nation--is probably making a big mistake.

When federal and postal unions endorse a political candidate (usually a Democrat), union leaders insist they are reflecting the views of a majority of their members.

This year, for example, Vice President Gore has been endorsed for the presidency by the Big Four unions: the National Treasury Employees Union, the American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the American Federation of Government Employees.

Although most postal workers (80 percent) belong to unions, fewer than three of every 10 white-collar government employees hold union cards and pay dues.

But anyone, politician, union leader, pollster or reporter, who takes federal employees for granted is making a mistake. Tell me about it!

The issue: the Jan. 23 Federal Diary column. In it, I left out the word "union" in a sentence dealing with federal workers and political support. I meant to say that most unions representing federal and postal workers were supporting Gore. By leaving out the word "unions," however, it read that most federal and postal workers were supporting Gore. One word. Big difference.

Lots of readers reacted. Some realized that a word must have been dropped. Others didn't. The bottom line: They say it is ridiculous for anybody--politician, union leader, pollster or reporter--to assume they are automatically in any politician's corner. Or pocket.

Some reaction to the missing word column:

"I take great exception to the statment in the Jan. 23 Federal Diary column. . . . While it is true that the AFGE recently endorsed Gore, I think that after the shabby and contemptuous way the Clinton/Gore administration has treated the federal work force for the last seven years, you will find very little support for Gore among rank-and-file workers." -- Ken Goldman

"I'm a federal employee and I don't support Al Gore, nor do any of the federal employees whom I know. I'm curious on what evidence do you base your assertion that 'most federal and postal workers are now backing Vice President Gore for the presidency.' " -- Mike Stepp

"What is the factual basis for this [federal workers support Gore] statement? Is it based on a poll? If so, whose poll? Frankly, it sounds like federal union propaganda. At least it is a relief that I can tune out all the campaign nonsense until the election since someone has already determined, without consulting me, who will receive my vote." -- Fairfax John

"Do you seriously believe the only reason federal employees choose to vote for a president is because of the size of the raise he or she may give us? The person who earns my vote is someone concerned about the economy, the environment and whether we want the courts poking their noses into our personal medical decisions. Yes, I'd like a raise that's more than the rate of inflation, but that issue isn't one I'm going to consider when I mark my ballot." -- Pam The Voter

"If you are talking about federal unions' support [of] Gore, you may be correct. If you are talking rank-and-file federal workers, then I question that statement. I work in an organization of approximately 50 individuals . . . and I am not aware of anyone who supports Gore for the presidential nomination. I think this is one reason that a large percentage of federal workers don't belong to federal unions." -- Doug Olcott

"Why don't you cite your sources for making such an assumption? I believe such a statement is unsupportable and you should withdraw it!" -- Dennis C. Jones

Tax Documents

A fed anxious to do her taxes says: "Please tell me when is it that agencies such as mine are supposed to mail out W-2 [income and tax withholding] forms. I came from another agency in which they have been received by now . . .. When I called my agency headquarters in Denver (on Jan. 23), I was told they had no idea when they would be mailed. Go figure."

According to the Internal Revenue Service, all employers--federal, state and local government and private sector--must mail W-2 forms to employees no later than Jan. 31. It is okay if they are received after the 31st, IRS regulations say, but they better be postmarked by the 31st!

Watertight Retirement

Patricia Sullivan says her favorite federal worker (and father) Lavern C. "Red" Sullivan is retiring after 50 years of federal service. Officially he was a plumber at Fort McNair. But according to reliable sources, his other duties included being the post's resident jokester and serving as volunteer Santa Claus for the U.S. Army band.

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

Thursday, Jan. 27, 2000