This is an item for all who are concerned about the federal budget deficit.

It's a familiar sight in our nation's capital year-round, but particularly from March through October: thousands of men and women in jogging outfits tearing up and down Constitution Avenue, across the Memorial Bridge, all over the Mall, near the Lincoln Memorial, practically everywhere one looks in downtown Washington.

Who are these determined people, these paragons of virtuous exercise who seem to be executing some kind of weird ritual? Are they running for God? For America? Are they tourists? Hired messengers? Unemployed rich?

No. For the most part, they are actually well-heeled government employees assigned to the maze of federal agencies in Washington. For years, these bureaucrats have been dashing all over town displaying torsos attired in little more than the briefest of undergarments, reaching their body highs and earning good money all the while. They are a major tourist attraction, although the taxpaying visitors to Washington may not realize that they are footing the bill for this activity.

Joggers may tell you that they are running on their lunch period. However, such a statement must be taken with a grain of salt. As a former Foreign Service officer with more than 30 years of duty with the Department of State, I knew many jogging boondogglers at State and other agencies who felt justified in running around town and getting paid for it. Their jogging activity was invariably followed by a lengthy lunch period.

Let's make some assumptions. There are at least 15,000 federal employees -- a very conservative estimate -- who run for about an hour a day. Add to this half an hour for changing and showering. That's 1 1/2 hours per day, five days a week, and let's say 40 weeks out of the year. Also, let's assume that the average salary of these joggers is $35,000 per year, or about $17 an hour. Government employees making less than $35K generally can't get away from their jobs to jog because they are far too busy.

When we add all of this up, we reach a figure of $76.5 million a year. If we calculate from 1961 when President Kennedy started all of this physical fitness business for government bureaucrats, the American taxpayers have dished out more than $2 billion (in 1987 prices) to permit government joggers to get their jollies on the job. Even if my basic estimate is cut by 50 percent, $1 billion is still a lot of money.

Is this activity fair to the American taxpayer? I say no. What to do? I have some suggestions:

1) Prohibit federal bureaucrats from running during official office hours.

2) Let them run, but dock their pay for the period of running, showering and changing.

3) Put some papers and packages in their hands, give them delivery destinations, and make them part-time messengers for an hour and a half per day, reducing their pay for that period to $6 an hour.

If the joggers refuse to accede to the above conditions, tell them to get jobs in private enterprise. This would really fix their wagons. How many firms do you know that will pay a person $17 an hour to run around Washington in his underwear? -- Malcolm Lawrence