I was incredulous reading Constance Newman's comments regarding the threat of furloughs for the federal work force {Federal Page, Sept. 5}. She said, "it is not as much a morale problem as anxiety people have about how they're going to meet their {financial} obligations."

The Office of Personnel Management director's casual dismissal of the effect furloughs would have on the mood of the work force is dangerously misinformed. Perhaps she should survey some of those whose lives would actually be affected by this scheme, rather than the political appointees and Senior Executive Service personnel in her immediate office. As a federal worker, I am shocked and outraged that the Bush administration and Congress might allow government-wide furloughs, much less welcome them as a "healthy exercise," as Constance Newman suggests.

The irony of the threatened furloughs coming in the same year that the Senior Executive Service pay is scheduled to rise 25 percent to 30 percent has not been lost on me or my colleagues. It seems the gap between private- and public-sector compensation for the average worker is unlikely to be bridged. While the balance between efficiency and equity must arguably be maintained in the private sector, I do not understand the wisdom of enriching the few at the expense of the many within the federal government itself.

I would be willing to sacrifice my job as a consequence of a wholesale reform of the federal bureaucracy that would reduce some of the bloat and inefficiency. But the current exercise gives the image of an individual who, when seized with the desire to lose 80 pounds, decides to amputate a leg rather than develop the self-discipline necessary to reduce his intake. Such desperately short-sighted thinking should neither be championed by the director of OPM nor should it be sanctioned by Congress and the White House. PAUL LANGHOLT Arlington

As Mike Causey put it in his Federal Diary {Metro, Aug. 30}, federal employees are once again being used as "hostages in the annual game of budget chicken" between Congress and the White House. The day his article appeared, I also read a column in Federal Computer Week stating that OPM was trying to upgrade the image of federal employees to attract the "best and brightest" to government service.

Well, an upgraded image may be nice, but it won't pay the bills. Most employees can't afford the pay cut that would result if furloughs took place. How many of the future "best and brightest" will want to work for an employer who in some years might grant a whopping 4 percent cost-of-living raise but in other years, depending on politics, can either forgo a raise or, as in this year, propose to decrease salaries?

If politics continue to determine federal workers' salaries, the government should forget about trying to attract the "best and brightest." It should just hope that it can hire people who can remember which days they are supposed to work and which days they are on furlough. After all, you get what you pay for. C. L. CENNAME Derwood