Is a small, growing army of well-connected consultants taking control of some government goliath agencies? Is it possible that thousands of outside experts and think-tank inhabitants have more power and influence than 2.8 million professional bureaucrats?

Does an outfit like the federal government, which pays salaries of $4.3 billion a month and hires 153,000 people each year need any outside help? If it does, is government getting the right sort of help and advice, or is it hearing what the people and firms it tries to regulate want to hear? Some people wonder.

Suppose the Department of Energy hired an outside consulting firm for $500 thousand (peanuts at the DOE) to advise it on holding down rates charged the public by gas and electric utilities?

And suppose you heard that the head of the firm DOE hired was also the largest stockholder in a major utility, a utility that just asked for a 25 percent rate increase?

And suppose nearly 50 of the consulting firm's top brass were ex-officials (and current stockholders) in various utilities?

And suppose the firm DOE was paying half a million dollars to for advice gets 20 times that much money each year from various utilities, for similar consulting work?

At some point, you might wonder just what sort of "impartial" expert advice on utility rate regulation DOE would be purchasing with its -- rather, with your -- half a million bucks. If true, it does make for some head-scratching.

Rep. Herbert Harris (D-Va.) has heard that horror story. In the months ahead he will be hearing a lot more. Harris is the new chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee. Despite that rather vague, unsexy title, the unit of the Post Office-Civil Service Committee has the mandate, money and time to look into contracting out by government agencies, and the use of outside consultants. Harris plans to make that sort of oversight one of the main thrusts of his new assignment.

Representing, as he does, about one-eighth of the total federal work force, Harris is concerned about outside contractors replacing legitimate government workers. As agencies cut personnel (but not dollar) ceilings, more and more are contracting out to get work done.

More federal agencies are hiring outsiders to do cleanup, security and "thinking" chores all the time. Despite denials from the White House, the Carter administration appears on the verge of expanding rules and allowing agencies to contract out more work while the federal work force is cut.

Harris doesn't know how many consultants and outside experts the government has. But that doesn't make him either a dummy, or unfit to chair the contracting-out oversight committee. Jimmy Carter doesn't know, either. Nor does Tip O'Neill, nor Barry Goldwater, nor Ralph Nader.

Nobody knows for sure how many people the government hires for daily, weekly or monthly chores because it cannot find somebody in its 2.8 million member work force that can do the job.

Harris may not know this time next year, either. But he hopes to get a handle on the numbers, and reasons for consultants. And their price tag.

He also is especially interested in the Department of Energy, a mammoth bureaucracy that is getting more mammoth all the time. Harris says he will look into DOE's consulting operations to find out if it is using the same people who consult for the oil companies who keep coming up with reams of material to show why the price of gas keeps going up.

Movie Review: Federal executives, supervisors and other ranks are being shown special movies -- along with briefings -- about the new civil service reform law. This is what the AFGE union reviewer wrote after viewing the presentation at the Labor Department:

"The session for nonsupervisory workers consisted of a 30-minute videotape featuring Carter's teeth and a dog and pony show with Civil Service Commission Chairman Alan Campbell and several complant agency personnel heads..." Maybe the book was better.