Thousands of persons here are breaking the law every day they go to work in government because they come from places like Maryland, West Virginia, the District, Pennsylvanla and Virginia.

Although they mean no harm, and probably don't even know they doing wrong, citizens of those areas are, technically, occupying space that belongs to people from far-away places with strange-sounding names, like Texas, Puerto Rico, California, American Samoa and, uh, even Georgia.

Most people don't know it, but an 1883 law provides that a chunk of government jobs here - about one in six of the 350,000 civilian federal jobs - are supposed to be given out on a state-by-state quota basis. Some agencies wink at the creaky statute, but others turn down applicatants from Iowa, North Carolina and Kansas because those states are already over-running the quotas set down for them.

Technically, about 52,000 jobs here are under the quota system, which applies to many positions in the "central office" of agencies here. There are exceptions, for veterans and for temporary jobs, but the general rule is that most agencies have a state-quota. Most are over it because the majority of persons employed here by Uncle Sam come from one of the 13 states that have too many people here.

In addition to the states (and the District) already mentioned, over-quota states include Vermont, Maine, Nebraska and North and South Dakota.

Every other state, plus Guam and the Panama Canal Zone, have quotas that haven't been filled. American Samoa, for instance, has six quota jobs and nobody in them. Arizona has 454 spots available to its qualified citizens but only 60 actually in them. Wisconsin is supposed to get 1,131 but only has 649 persons in the quota jobs.

A lot of people think the old quota system is silly and ought to be abolished. Every year, in January, the Civil Service Commission decides the quota-for-states is silly and asks Congress to repeal the law. So far, Congress hasn't.

Persons already in quota jobs - even "illegals" from such over-represented areas as the states in the metropolitan area, which has 15,021 persons crammed into 745 quota slots - aren't likely to be bounced by a well-qualified job hunter from Connecticut or Kentucky. But the law (Section 3306, title 5, U.S. Code) remains on the books as a reminder of a time when states rights extended even into job-filling here.