The Air Force is trying to downplay an internal memo that says it will announce a massive layoff of civilian employees - a layoff that might affect Utah's Hill Air Force Base - just three days after the election in November, a newspaper says.

And Maj. Gen. Dale W. Thompson Jr., Hill commander, sent an open letter to HAFB civilians Friday, assuring them that a massive layoff had not been decided upon. However, his letter went on to lay out a timetable for any layoffs identical to that listed in the internal memo.The national memo, dated Aug. 28, was sent by Gen. Charles C. McDonald, commander of the U.S. Air Force Logistics Command, to his five Air Force logistics centers. The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and News said Wednesday it obtained a copy of the memo from a Robins Air Force Base employee.

The memo includes a "reduction in force" timetable that says the Air Force will announce the layoffs at its logistics bases on Nov. 9 and send pink slips to employees on Jan. 25, 1991. But Lt. Col. Chuck Manker, a spokesman for Air Force Logistics Command headquarters in Ohio, told the Telegraph and News the memo was distributed as a "planning document" and its target dates are now in doubt.

"That timetable would have been the ideal," Manker said, "but things have been set back."

In his open letter to Hill Air Force Base civilian employees, Thompson said no one has made a final decision about whether a reduction in force will be implemented and how many people will be affected.

"We have repeated our goal of taking every measure to avoid actions such as RIF (reduction in force) and to use it only as a last resort. Such is still the same. In the meantime, we must be prepared for the possibility that an RIF may be required."

However, Thompson's letter said if there are layoffs, they "probably would occur around March 1991." Employees to be laid off in March would be notified in January, he said, and an announcement of those layoffs would probably be made in November.

Thompson noted that "all of this is not very reassuring" but promised HAFB civilians that "as soon as any final decisions are made, I will make sure the work force is the first to know."

Air Force headquarters has not approved a reduction in force, and officials are unsure when a decision will be made, Manker said. The memo said the Air Force was expected to decide by Oct. 1 on the layoffs.

The memo indicates the logistics command is taking elaborate steps to prepare for a cutback that many workers believe is inevitable.


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A.F. Civilians

The Air Force has 80,000 civilians working at the following logistics centers:

- Hill Air Force Base, Utah

- Robins AFB, Ga.

- Kelly AFB, Texas

- McClellan AFB, Sacramento, Calif.

- Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.