When it comes to sizing up the pay envelopes of top executives at Washington's largest companies, two things hold true: almost everyone gets a raise and no one wants to talk about it.

"It's an internal matter," said Riggs Bank spokesman David Palombi when asked to explain the 96.6 percent raise that bank chairman and chief executive Joe L. Allbritton got last year.

Allbritton's total compensation, a combination of salary and annual bonus, came to $1.5 million in 1989, ranking him second only to Crown Books CEO Robert Haft when it comes to the highest paid executives at the Washington area's 60 largest companies.

Though Washington is not close to being the nation's compensation capital, average pay for area executives in 1989 increased a handsome 11.8 percent to about $594,000 from the previous year -- a pay raise that outstripped the national average, according to The Washington Post's annual survey of executive compensation.

Meaty increases in two local industries, health care and financial services, significantly boosted the average.

"Area pay is rising faster than national pay for CEOs," said Michael F. Emig, principal consultant with the Wyatt Co., a compensation and benefits consulting firm that surveyed the 1989 pay packages of the area's largest public companies for The Post. "It's an industry phenomenon."

Last year, nine CEOs broke the $1 million barrier, three more than in 1988.

"The roots of the compensation pattern lie in the nature of business here," Emig said. "It's changing a lot. If big companies keep coming here, compensation will rise faster than other parts of the country."

Local benefits consultants said that pay for top executives is becoming more competitive as the area becomes less focused on government and more on private business, particularly with the arrival of huge corporations such as Mobil Oil.

"Nowadays, {Washington is} a significant business center like Dallas, Los Angeles and New York," said Leonard Pfeiffer, a partner in Korn/Ferry International's Washington office. "As a result, companies have to get much more serious about compensation plans. They have to pay real money to get people here."

Leading the pack for "real money" was Crown Books' Robert Haft, who had total cash compensation of $1.6 million last year. That, of course, doesn't include the $720,000 he received for serving as president of Dart Group Corp., another of the Haft family's business enterprises.

Robert's father, Herbert Haft, the chairman and chief executive of Dart Group and Trak Auto, was just shy of hitting the $1 million mark with his $942,000 paycheck last year. But he was only a footnote away, since the fine print in Dart Group's financial disclosure form shows he was paid another $260,000 for heading Trak, bring his total to $1.2 million.

While most of the companies surveyed rewarded their top executives with a pay raise, 24 percent handed them a pay cut -- though decreases can be deceiving if you add in lucrative stock options that often are not reported as part of regular compensation.

For example, at first glance it looks like MCI Communications Corp. CEO William G. McGowan took a 2.1 percent cut as reward for helping his company realize a 58 percent increase in earnings. Yet McGowan vaults to the top of the list when another $7.3 million in one-time gains from company stock options are added to $1.3 million in salary and bonus.

The sting of a 10 percent pay cut for Edwin I. Colodny, chairman and president of USAir Corp., was removed when he received an extra $2.2 million from various stock option plans. His regular pay dropped to $570,673 from $631,277 the previous year.

The airline had a $63 million loss last year that apparently affected the bonuses that Colodny and other USAir officers are eligible for under a special "executive incentive compensation plan" that was set up in 1988 to motivate key executives to increase the corporation's profitability, according to the annual meeting notice shareholders received.

You don't have to be a high flyer in a high profile company to make the top of the list.

David O. Maxwell is CEO of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), which is not widely known outside the investment community. But he joined the millionaires club with cash compensation of $1,317,561. With stock options, his package came to almost $4 million.

"It's not some sort of slam dunk. You have to work for it," Maxwell said. A significant portion of Maxwell's regular earnings are tied to reaching corporate goals that are linked to the company's return on equity.

Fannie Mae, a publicly owned company that is congressionally chartered to be the nation's largest investor in home mortgages, was pulled out of the doldrums by Maxwell, who led the company to a 59 percent increase in profits last year. He made $225,000 when he joined Fannie Mae in 1981.

But at other financial institutions where problems in real estate portfolios are coming home to roost, the last of the generous paychecks may already have been given out.

Chairman Thomas J. Owen's pay at Perpetual Financial Corp., where he recently stepped down as CEO, reflected the state of the savings and loan industry: His earnings were off 21 percent to $423,753.

Then there were those who got nothing extra, or close to it.

After taking a 40 percent cut in salary and bonus last year, Michael R. Lavington, president of Kay Jewelers Inc., settled for no raise this year. Reflecting the financial straits his company is in, his pay stayed at $345,000 with no bonuses.

Government services providers also are feeling the pinch as a result of reduced federal spending. Top executives at CACI International Inc., Computer Data Systems Inc., ERC Environmental and Energy, GRC International Inc. and VSE Corp. had very small gains or cuts in pay.

The notable exception was Martin Marietta Corp. Chairman Norman R. Augustine whose total compensation increased 23.2 percent to slightly more than $1 million.

In rapid growth industries such as health care, pay packages are on the increase. For example, Mid-Atlantic Medical Services Inc., a health-maintenance organization, boosted the compensation of company president George Jochum by 51.4 percent, bringing his total pay up to $333,597.

The cash compensation for Stewart Bainum Jr., chairman and chief executive of Manor Care Inc., and for Charles H. Robbins, chairman and president at PHP Healthcare Corp., each increased by 80 percent.

Though top company executives on average outstripped national increases for CEOs, no one locally came close to the megabucks some corporate moguls received elsewhere around the country.

Foremost was the $54 million that Craig O. McCaw bagged as chairman of McCaw Cellular Communications Inc. in Kirkland, Wash. A mere $289,000 came from salary and bonus, the rest was delivered in the form of stock options that were exercised.

The frosting on the compensation cake came earlier this month when it was disclosed that Gerald Greenwald, Chrysler Corp.'s number two executive, would get paid a total of $9 million for leading a union buyout of UAL Corp., the parent of United Airlines, even if the deal never happens.

With such rich pay plans in the making, some investors are beginning to question just how much incentive their CEOs have to make the most of the companies they run. Thanks largely to pressure from institutional investors, some companies are considering asking executives to take a larger equity stake in the corporations they run to strengthen the tie between their own financial success and that of their company.

Stock options have been the most common kind of long-term incentives for CEOs, according to benefits consultants.

The pattern is for the options to be held a required period and then be cashed out. Median stock ownership by CEOs is a minuscule 0.37 percent, said Michael C. Jensen and Kevin J. Murphy, academics who are experts in executive pay practices.

In April, at a time when Chrysler Corp. stock was languishing, company Chairman Lee Iacocca asked 100 senior executives to invest portions of their salaries in company stock.

"I expect it to spread like a brushfire in the corporate community," said Robert Salwen, a principal with William M. Mercer Inc., compensation consultants. "Apart from the fact it's a trendy thing to do, there is real merit to it."

A survey by the Hay Group of 45 high-tech companies in Washington, Boston and Silicon Valley showed superior earnings growth where executives took more than a 5 percent equity position in their companies.

But the old ways of hefty salaries and juicy perquisites die hard.

"The truth is, cash is king," said Robert Kryvicky, vice president in Towers Perrin's Washington office. "There is no getting around it."

Researcher Margaret K. Webb contributed to this report.