Private citizens who testify before congressional committees ought to be safe from retaliation by employers or others who don't like what they said. That seems basic, but currently there is no federal law protecting such witnesses.

Some members of a House subcommittee, angry over the firing of a worker who appeared before a House panel, want to make it a felony to threaten or fire an employee because of congressional testimony.A House Interior and Insular Affairs subcommittee concluded this week that Florian Sever, a mill worker for the Alaska Pulp Corp., was fired because he had testified in favor of legislation strongly opposed by his employer.

The measure, later passed by the House, would eliminate automatic federal appropriations for Alaskan timber, would temporarily ban logging in certain areas, and would terminate some 50-year federal contracts with Alaska Pulp and another company.

As long as people can be compelled to appear before Congress to testify, it's only simple justice to protect them - whether they volunteer to testify or are summoned to do so.

As Rep. Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations, noted:

"It is the duty of congressional committees to protect witnesses . . . Unless citizens can come before the Congress and speak their minds freely and without fear of retribution, it renders the congressional hearing process meaningless."