Building up lobbying clout is not the only hiring priority for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae these days.

Competition for workers, especially high-tech employees, is so hot that Freddie is offering employees a car for successful job referrals. A shiny new blue Volkswagen Beetle at the main entrance of Freddie's headquarters outside Washington reminds employees of the hiring incentive.

It is part of a campaign that includes passing out mini VWs to employees and plastering the walls with "Hires Wanted" signs, echoing Volkswagen's "Drivers Wanted" ad campaign.

Employees who refer a successful candidate get a cash reward-$2,000 for high-tech jobs and $1,000 for others-and are entered in a drawing for the car.

Freddie's tactics reflect the growing demand for high- tech workers in the Washington area. Anchored by America Online in Dulles, Va., it is fast becoming a center for computer and technology-related companies.

Fannie Mae offers a purse as high as $5,000 for high-tech employee referrals. Fannie expects to hire about 200 high-tech employees this year, said Cathy Mattax, director of the corporate information services business office. She said the company's information technology staff has tripled since 1990 and now has 1,200 people.

Freddie Mac has nearly 900 information technology employees and has already filled about 130 openings this year, some with people who were already employees, said Jennifer Garrett, director of employment services. "Internal referrals tend to generate the best candidates," she added.

With "the low unemployment rate and new companies springing up" in the neighborhood, Freddie has to make a special effort to attract staff, she said.

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