If the government is looking for a chance to display a bit of the spirit of the holiday season, it might consider Clinton Smith.

Smith hasn't had a paycheck since October 1981. He has no retirement annuity, because he had to withdraw the money from his civil-service retirement account for current expenses. He has moved to the old family home in North Carolina, having had to sell his Washington-area residence in order to pay his bills. His son and daughter have had to pass up college in order to help support the family.

Since he has no job, he also has no employer-supplemented group insurance. Right now, he's paying some $800 a quarter for medical insurance -- a bargain at that, since he's been hospitalized three times in the last 18 months for stress-related illnesses.

"This is what it comes to," he said the other day. "After 25 years in the government, the last nine of those years as principal assistant to the chairman of the [Civil Service] Commission with the collateral job of equal employment opportunity officer, I find myself reduced to a pauper and my family victimized -- principally because of my efforts to abide by the requirements and laws of the civil service."

Smith, who will be 49 next month, says he is a victim of government reprisal. He will give you details, in that careful, cultured tone of his, for as long as you care to listen.

His troubles, he says, go back to the passage of the 1972 Equal Employment Opportunity Act, when, as a top official at the Civil Service Commission (now the Office of Personnel Management) he was given the responsibility of setting up and running a model EEO program for the government: in effect, a second full- time job.

The strain of working what amounted to two jobs may have a good deal to do with the hypertension that laid him low, he says. But the overriding factor, he believes, was that his agency didn't like the vigor with which he pursued his assignment.

"The climate within the commission was opposed to vigorous implementation of the EEO regulations," he said. "You will recall that this was the period during which the commission was charged by Congress as having been one of the tools used by President Nixon to politicize the government.

"Still, one of my first decisions was in favor of a black male who had been discriminated against, and the second was in favor of Peggy Griffiths [a black female contender for chairman of the CSC appeals board]."

Smith doesn't want to give the impression of some militant bull in an EEO china shop. "I rendered two or three decisions favoring white males who had charged age discrimination, and at least two white women and one or two handicapped persons had their cases settled favorably."

His reward, he says in a four-year-old lawsuit, was harassment that included a reduction in his job responsibilities, a denial (later rescinded) of a regular in- grade pay increase and, finally, a denial of his application for disability retirement. (Smith says 98 percent of the people who applied for disability retirement during that period were approved.)

He later resigned anyway at the urging of his physician, and last year retained the Washington-based Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights to handle his claim. (The government admitted it had applied erroneous standards in denying the disability claim; it later applied new standards and denied it again.)

"I don't know what they could be thinking about," Smith said the other day. "I was making $52,000 a year at the time, and the most I could get on disability would be about $17,000. I'd be stupid to leave if I didn't have to."