One of the things that can give the feds a bad name at the grass roots is the seeming inability of some bureaucrats to get things done. It makes the many hard-working, conscientious federal employes in Washington angry to hear a specific horror story raised to the level of general indictment. But the fact is there are few local and state officials who don't have at least one good howler to tell about how somebody in the federal regional office or even in Washington really did a number on them.

We provide that as a preamble to a little story from Magnolia, Del., a small town of either 327 (the mayor's figure) or 283 (the Census Bureau's, after an appeal) not too far south of Dover. Just last week, Mayor Shirley H. Jarrell found it her unpleasant duty to tell the town council that the Department of Energy's regional office in Philadelphia had received Magnolia's application for a $46,000 federal grant to construct a windmill and add one room to the town hall -- and had lost it. Consequently, no money would be forthcoming. The windmill would have been placed atop the town's water tower to reduce the electric bill. The water tower's supports surround the town hall, and the windmill's workings and mechanisms would have been put on display behind a glass wall. "I just wish you could see the plans," the mayor said.

Jarrell received an apologetic letter from Joseph J. Tribble, assistant secretary of DOE for conservation and renewable energy. "Of the approximately 48,000 grant applications received and the 2,400 grants issued in this program, this is the first lost application to our knowledge," he wrote. It's a nice letter, but the grant would have nicer.

"If there's ever an opportunity we will resubmit," Jarrell said.