The brief note on the front of the 1982 Form 1040 sent out by the Internal Revenue Service just after Christmas was the quintessential soft sell:

"Quite often we receive inquiries about how people may make voluntary contributions to reduce the public debt. If you should wish to contribute, just enclose in your tax return envelope a separate check made payable to 'Bureau of the Public Debt.' "

And just like most charities do, it added, "Subject to the limitations on charitable contributions, you can deduct this contribution on next year's tax return." With a budget deficit in the neighborhood of $200 billion this year, the federal government may resemble a needy charity. In any event, by April 22 the IRS had found 2,920 donations along with the millions of tax returns it had received and opened. The donations totaled $247,238.10.

IRS Commissioner Roscoe L. Egger Jr. said he is pleased and proud of those checks--especially the one for $25,000--which represent money raised at virtually no cost to the government. If the donors deduct their gifts on their 1983 returns, the eventual net to the government will be considerably less than that quarter of a million dollars, of course. IRS officials aren't quite sure about the motives of one giver. He sent a check for a penny.