The line of senators and congressmen wound around Patrick Griffin, the Senate's outgoing secretary for the minority, for two hours at his farewell party last month. Kennedy, Hollings, Lugar, Pell, Glenn, Metzenbaum, Gore, Byrd -- they all came by to smile and shake hands and wish Griffin luck in his new job as senior vice president and managing director of government relations at the public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller.

Watching Griffin, Harold Burson, chairman of Burson-Marsteller, was smiling, too.

It is by now one of the predictable Washington rituals -- the flurry of activity, especially heavy after a national election, as people on the inside rush to become people on the outside. With overloaded Rolodexes in hand, they leave the subcommittees and offices of undersecretaries, clean out the closed headquarters of failed campaigns and empty their White House desks, and soon consulting firms, public relations firms and law firms are announcing the new vice presidents and associates and partners.

Some call it "looking for new challenges."

Others call it "cashing in."

The participants in the leap from the public to private sector range from former senators to Hill aides. There are those who simply return to their old professions; others begin anew. But if they stay in Washington, chances are that what they do after their government stint will be pretty different from what they did before, which makes sense. After all, 10 years ago, how big a Washington draw would the name Michael Deaver have been?

Which brings us to the question of money.

In this game, power gets you money, rather than vice versa. Salaries in government are often doubled (and sometimes far better than that) out in what one former member of the lobbying community calls "the real world." Time magazine recently reported that former Senate majority leader Howard Baker will make close to $1 million this year, primarily with the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins. There are different forms of cashing in. Baker is also appearing in print and broadcast ads for USA Today. A board member of Gannett, which publishes the paper, he is not getting paid, but a prospective presidential candidate can't help but be pleased by the exposure. A spokesman for Geraldine Ferraro has said she will make $500,000 for appearing in a Diet Pepsi ad.

But most Washington insiders follow a path similar to, if less lucrative than, Walter Mondale's. In 1982 and 1983, the former vice president earned just under $900,000 from consulting and legal work and honoraria for speeches. Harold Burson said he would pay Deaver, who now makes about $72,000 at the White House, at least $200,000 to join his Washington office. (But Deaver has told friends he intends to open his own firm, and they expect his salary there to exceed Burson's offer.) John M. Albertine left his position as executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress five years ago to head the brand new American Business Conference, an organization of the CEOs of 100 midsize companies. On the Hill he made $53,000 a year. He has just signed a new contract for $250,000 a year plus bonuses.

But the transition consists of more than simply adjusting to the improvement in cash flow. Each wave of farewell parties is followed by a wave of questions and criticism. The images that rankle are of defeated or retired politicians prowling the halls of Congress, of former EPA employes representing the same firms they recently monitored, of former Defense officials working for the contractors who manufacture the arms they authorized in their Pentagon days, of former White House biggies picking up the phone and dialing the old familiar numbers on behalf of a trade association.

There are some restrictions. The 1978 Ethics in Government Act decreed that newly minted lobbyists who previously worked in the executive branch must wait through a one-year "cooling off period" before they can lobby their old agencies or offices; Hill employes and elected officials, however, are free to start immediately.

But assuming that wealth inevitably follows government service can be dangerous. During recent divorce proceedings for John M. Fedders, who resigned yesterday as the enforcement director of the Securities and Exchange Commission, it was made public that Fedders took a $100,000-a-year pay cut when he resigned as a partner in the law firm of Arnold & Porter, where he made $160,000 a year. The political appointment at the SEC paid $59,500. In his wife Charlotte's testimony, it was revealed that in recent years he was spending twice his salary. A friend testified that Fedders said he could continue to spend beyond his means because when he returned to private practice he could make as much as $400,000 a year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Fedders' story, a grim tale of debt and despair, is hardly typical, but his great expectations are not unusual.

Michael Deaver and his wife Carolyn have complained for years that they were going broke in public service, more voices repeating the popular maxim that while government service has its rewards, it's just too expensive. So, when you leave the public sector for a lucrative private salary, you've earned it.

"There are increased demands on you and your family to go places, do things," says Joseph Canzeri, Deaver's former executive assistant who resigned in 1982 after questions were raised about favorable home loans and two incidents of double billing for expenses. The Justice Department later found Canzeri did not violate federal law.

"I always got by with one tuxedo," he says. At the White House I needed three. In the White House, every day someone's coming in asking you to lunch and it's damn embarrassing because someone else is picking up the check. You can't afford a $75, $80 lunch every day with no expenses."

Says John Albertine of the American Business Conference: "You're looking for a new challenge, and the opportunity to try to build some net worth for your family is important . . . You reach your mid-thirties -- the kids are going to school, they need braces, you start to think about college."

Some, knowing what's ahead, plan before going in.

"I must confess after four years on a government payroll, I'm delighted with my new life style," says Lee Atwater, former White House deputy political director, now a partner in the consulting firm of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly. But Atwater had always intended to return to political consulting -- "I'm not a bureaucrat" -- and had substantial savings and investments to help him through the four years in public service. "I had to sell a couple of duplexes," he says.

Of course, not everyone leaving public service goes into business.

"I just ruled it out from the day I left," says Douglas Bennet Jr. about the possibility of a job in lobbying. Now head of National Public Radio, Bennet served as an aide to a variety of Democratic senators and was director of the Agency for International Development during the Carter administration. "It would have solved some financial problems. But I didn't want to be on the other side of the table from my colleagues."

In a recent issue of The New Republic, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency director Kenneth Adelman called on government employes to stop complaining about the rigors of government service.

"For political appointees, jobs in government have the . . . advantage of impermanence," Adelman wrote. "You can be sure to move on to a much better, and probably better paying, job far more quickly than if you work at a bank, a large corporation, a law firm, or your own business."

None of which moves Canzeri: "I don't want to be defensive about it, but there seems to be some different criteria. People feel they require more from a public servant. But if you haven't been there, then you don't know what's happening there. My own feeling is, I think it's a privilege to serve. You have to give a little something up, but there comes a time when you're giving up too much. . ."

And, according to Sheila Tate, Nancy Reagan's former press secretary who joined Burson-Marsteller last week, the general assumption is that the limit is reached quickly.

"I found that within 18 months of my being in the job, people were saying, 'How long are you going to stay?' " she says.

"It's a bittersweet kind of thing," Patrick Griffin says of his departure from the Senate offices. "I've had such a wonderful opportunity to learn and maybe help in a little way. I will miss it from the bottom of my heart, I really will. But I have to prepare for my children's education -- they're going to private school next year."

Speaking a week after his party, Griffin is still helping out at the old office, soon to set up the new, off the Senate payroll.

"I've been in public service -- whether I was teaching or whatever -- for years," he says. Before he came to Washington in 1977, Griffin worked at a psychiatric institute, taught in a drug-rehabilitation program and was an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin. Since then, he worked at the Department of Health and Human Services (when it was still HEW), he was Howard Metzenbaum's aide on the Senate Budget Committee, he served on the staff of the Democratic Policy Committee and he spent two years as secretary for the minority.

He knew, he says, that the time was approaching when he would want a change. What he didn't know was that the decision to leave his job would come so soon, and that it would lead him outside government.

"How I feel about what I'm doing," he says, "has to do with whether or not I'm doing it well, whether or not I'm excited about it, whether or not I'm making a contribution and whether or not I'm challenged. I had the luxury of that gauge for a long time, until all of a sudden having a family really had exponentially increased my costs, so that became a new criterion. So that forced a decision much sooner than I anticipated."

Griffin's two teen-age children from his first marriage live in Wisconsin. Traveling costs, he says, have tripled since he came to Washington, and he now spends $5,000 to $6,000 a year to fly his children in for visits. The private schools will cost another $8,000.

"Doing something that is purely motivated by the needs of myself and my family -- this is the first time as a full-fledged adult that I've really done that, that there hasn't been some other reason. I don't know what it's going to be like, not having that as a purpose. I suspect a little guilt-ridden."

Talk to people who are leaving government, and you'll see the lines between the public and private worlds blur. They're not actually going all that far away, they say, and then they use words like "the process," as in "I want to stay involved in the process, but in a different capacity."

"You're doing it in a different format, but many of the things I do outside are the same things you do inside," says Anne Wexler, who founded the lobbying firm Wexler, Reynolds, Harrison and Schule after leaving her position as assistant to the president in the Carter White House. "One of the things I did in the White House was building public support for presidential issues. In a lot of ways that's what I do for my clients now."

But, Wexler says, while the work is similar, the life is better. "It's wonderful," she says. "If they call you up and ask you how much money you make, you can say, 'It's none of your business.' "

Sheila Tate's new work is also familiar. Before she went to the White House, she was a vice president with the public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton. "I've really gone back to doing what I was good at doing before," she says. If she had stayed at Hill and Knowlton, "I believe I would have been at this level now," but, Tate adds, "I'm probably paid a little more for the experience."

John Albertine also says the switch was a logical one. A former professor of economics, Albertine is interested in "capital formation. Because basically I'm very free market oriented. I just got very interested in actually working with business people rather than going back to academia."

But the transition is not always without trauma.

"With all their expense accounts and lunches at the Palm, I sense a tremendous envy on the part of people who've left towards those who are still in," says Christopher J. Matthews, spokesman for House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill. "The reason they came here in the first place -- the only really good reason to be in Washington -- is to be involved in the government."

When Douglas Bennet left government at the end of the Carter administration, he went first to the Roosevelt Center for Policy Studies and then to NPR. He explains that as head of the Roosevelt Center he supervised studies on tax reform and methods of avoiding accidental nuclear war that were obviously intended to affect governmental decisions, but adds, "the distinction, I guess, is between doing it for special interests and doing it otherwise.

"If you're going to be in government and public service, you should be in it, and if you're out of government and public service, you should be out of it."

But for some who've recently given up their listings in the Congressional Staff Directory, such distinctions are not worrisome. Good lobbyists, they say, contribute to government by providing information legislators need. And as for suddenly being on the other side of the table, well, most of the people facing them are wondering if they'll soon be making the same switch.

"I was subject to what I guess is the usual amount of ribbing," says David E. Johnson, who recently spent 10 months as legislative counsel for the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association after three years as administrative assistant to Sen. George Mitchell (D-Maine) and is now director of the Senatorial Democratic Campaign Committee. "You know, 'John's going off to be a lobbyist . . .' But it's a transition people are familiar with . . . Many others can imagine it happening to them."

And as for cashing in on the connections made in government, it's not a process limited to only one profession.

"It's like reporters -- they work for The Washington Post or The New York Times, develop contacts," says Canzeri. "As time goes by, their contacts get better. What you're cashing in on is experience -- something you worked 30 or 40 years to get. You have to think about the future. The president is only there for four years, unless re-elected, so I think you have to think about what your other responsibilities are."

But if the political climate changes, there are ways of insuring continued clout. Many firms make sure to hire both Democrats and Republicans. Wexler joined with Reagan intimate Nancy Reynolds several years ago, and now Black, Manafort and Stone has added several Democrats to its traditionally Republican lineup, including new partner Peter G. Kelly.

Joseph Califano is out during Republican terms and in during Democratic ones, which he says has its advantages. "I actually think it's important for people to be both in government and in the private sector," says the former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare who is now a partner in the law firm of Dewey Ballantine. "I think I actually did a better job at working with the Food and Drug Administration when I was at HEW because before I was at HEW I had represented some drug companies with the Food and Drug Administration."

Lyn Nofziger, who went from White House political director to head of his own consulting firm, says, "You can't tell someone, 'If you come to government, you must stay there forever. You must never deal with the people you worked with before.' It makes no sense. You apply what you learned inside when you get outside. You do it when you go to college and apply what you learned inside.

"What a lot of people do when they come out, they sometimes throw names around and tell you how close they are to the president or the secretary. Those sorts of things are unethical. But what do people expect?" said Nofziger, who knows whereof he speaks. Last year, questions were raised about his efforts on behalf of a convicted Louisiana official whose sentence was commuted by the president. "I've known Ed Meese, Mike Deaver, Bill Clark -- I've known them for damn near 20 years. What am I supposed to do? Just forget they exist? I wouldn't expect them to do that."

When Scott Pastrick was growing up in East Chicago, he figured he'd probably run for mayor some day, then for Congress and then maybe the Senate. His father was, and is, mayor of East Chicago, and Scott grew up on politics.

But Pastrick now says that although two years ago he ran his father's campaign, he'll probably never have one of his own. Instead, the 28-year-old former staff director of a House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittee is joining Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly.

"I think he's got mixed emotions," says Pastrick about his father. "He would have probably liked me to stay closer to the actual process."

But, Pastrick says, "I think his kind of politics is gone. He's made a career of politics and been in public service all his life. I don't know if people can plot a course and say I want public service to be my entire life now. The demands of public life are too great now -- if one wants to have a family.

"I want to spend time with my kids. I made the decision when I asked my wife to marry me. I promised her I would stay close to politics, but it would not put too many demands on my life with her."

And as Pastrick "fell in love with Washington," he realized "you could have your cake and eat it, too. You could be close to the process and have input" without burdens of elective office like the constant traveling back to your home district.

"And I think Capitol Hill's changing," he says. "The agenda setting has changed. The need for information is growing every day.

"I think most people who make government a career eventually have a long-term plan to move on to something else, and this is the most likely place to land."