In this time of RIFs and furloughs, three former federal employes have launched a new political action committee to win friends on Capitol Hill and remind their former colleagues of a basic fact of political life.

"This may run counter to somebody's seventh grade civics lesson, but obviously money is the key. It equates with effectiveness in politics," said David Trick, one of the three who organized the Federal Employees Political Action Committee (Fedpac) last month.

Trick and his colleagues--all former top officials with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization and once controllers themselves--say the committee hopes to lobby Congress on issues important to federal workers, contribute to friends in Congress and campaign against enemies.

But for now, the fledgling committee, started with $10,000 in personal savings and operating out of what Trick calls "a glorified mail drop" on Seventh Street SE, is struggling for its first contributions and encountering a cool welcome even from some groups that share its beliefs.

"I just hope they die on the vine," L.J. Andolsek, president of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees, said with a mischievous laugh. "Oh, I'm being facetious. But I want the money that's out there for my organization. I like money."

And a lobbyist for a major union representing federal employes said, "The question of whether they are competing with the labor unions will certainly come up in some people's minds."

Trick, Fedpac's operations director, and Patrick Doyle, who will serve as the group's chief lobbyist, expressed some surprise at the comments. "We hope to work hand in glove with the unions," said Doyle.

Fedpac's creation is part of a continuing surge in political action committees designed to raise funds and elect sympathetic candidates. As of year's end, according to the Federal Election Commission, there were 2,901 such committees, representing the full spectrum of political views.

Trick said Fedpac's major concerns are RIFs, cutbacks, furloughs and other threats to federal workers' job security; assaults on the civil service retirement system, and the undeserved image of federal workers as "mindless, faceless bureaucrats" who do nothing positive in their jobs.

Indeed, Rep. William Clay (D-Mo.), whom Doyle visited last week, said, "Anything done to organize federal employes to stop them from being used as scapegoats of the administration is good. Fedpac sounds good to me."

But despite that kind of support, Fedpac could have its problems.

One is the former status of its principals as national officials for PATCO, the union that was decertified after its members went on strike. Trick was PATCO's operations director; Doyle its chief lobbyist, and Dennis Reardon its research director, the job he will take on at Fedpac.

"It's hard to be carrying water for PATCO one day and turn up the next as an official for Fedpac," said one congressional staff member. "The demands PATCO was trying to push on the Hill were out of touch with reality."

Trick countered that the new organization "is not a clone of PATCO or an offshoot of PATCO, and it has nothing to do with PATCO."

Trick's biggest concern these days is money. Fedpac has collected between $6,000 and $7,000 through two newspaper advertisements. Next month it will launch another campaign in five cities with leafletting at federal job sites.

"There has been reluctance by federal federal employes to contribute to political organizations," said Trick. "I hope they will wake up and get out of their lethargy."