Some of the nation's lowest paid federal workers could be in for surprise pay cuts as a result of a new White House -- ordered lid on the size of their recent raises.

The employes involved are NAF (nonappropriated fund) workers, mostly with the Defense Department and VA. They work in service-to-the-military jobs, in stores, post exchanges, commissaries and other retail-like outlets. Many of them now barely get the minimum wage.

Normally the NAF people get raises based on local wage surveys of similar jobs in the private sector. Many increases for Washington-area NAF employes came due in October and November. But Defense put a hold on some of them, because of the President's Oct. 24 speech asking the private sector to voluntarily hold wage increases to around 7.2 percent.

Since some of the NAF increases would have been in excess of the voluntary private industry wage guidelines, Defense asked the White House what it should do about increases for its civilian personnel. Nobody, at the time, knew what mischief this would create for the lowpaid employes.

The White House finally decided that ALL of the NAF workers should be put under a 5.5 percent pay ceiling. The lid is supposed to be on for the remainder of this fiscal year, which ends in September. That corresponds to the 5.5 percent pay cap the President put on last October's raise for white collar U.S. workers and the military, and a similar 5.5 percent ceiling Congress laid on blue collar government workers.

The Catch-22 is that some increases in excess of 5.5 percent were approved and paid BEFORE the President made his speech, and well before this week's memo putting the 5.5 percent lid on the NAF people. Some officials believe that the directive will be -- or already has been -- made retroactive to Oct. 1.

If that happens, and it appears likely, those NAF people who got raises recently in excess of 5.5 percent might be cut back by an amount necessary to limit their total gross raise to 5.5 percent. Workers in at least two Washington area jurisdictions might be hit by this action.

President Carter made two exceptions to the 5.5 percent raise limit. The first involves amounts necessary to keep or bring NAF workers up to the minimum wage.

The second exception to the NAF and general federal pay lid of 5.5 percent involves foreign nationals working for Uncle Sam. Although the President can, and has, cut back pay adjustments for American federal employes he says foreign nationals can get full amounts due them. That is because of treaty obligations with host governments in Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy and other nations.

Some American federal employes are wishing they had a treaty with the U.S. government, rather than just an old Act of Congress. The pay law says federal workers are supposed to get raises necessary to bring them up to comparable salaries with similar jobs in the private sector. But President Carter, and Congress, used their authority to hold down catchup-with-industry raises for both groups.

National Federation of Federal Employes President James Peirce believes the President's pay actions amount to a Carter "declaration of war" against the government work force and the military. Peirce's union has gone into U.S. court in an attempt to get NAF workers full raises due them.

To hit the "lowest paid people in government" with a pay lid that is only voluntary for industry is "shameful" Peirce said. So far, he said, his union is going to respond only in court. But he said the administration could have an office-to-office fight on its hands later on, if the "hostile" attitude toward federal workers continues.

Meantime, major AFL- CIO union leaders representing government workers have also had some unkind things to say about Carter and congressional pay policies.

Public Employes Department president Howard W. McClennand says he would not support Carter for reelection because of various "broken promises" to the federal labor movement. American Federation of Government Employes chief Kenneth T. Blaylock says he would not call or sanction a strike of members at this time, but Blaylock says it is entirely possible that the government at some point in the future might get a devalued day's work from workers, who have seen pay raises whittled back, and delayed.

If the federal work force held an office party today, odds are Jimmy Carter would not be invited as guest of honor.