There is gold in sludge, trash, rotten air and garbage these days.

Federal agencies, with $1 billion a month to spend on "environmental" projects, are being swamped by applications from companies specializing in environmental consulting. It is the hot item of the moment, so "in" in government that even unlikely places like the Appalachian Regional Commission, Veterans Administration and Department of State have their own environment funds and projects.

Contracting officers and project mangers in 20 agencies are being wooed with brochures, dinners and other things from companies anxious to help Uncle Sam -- for a fee.

The environmental consulting groups range from big-name, prestige firms employing PhDs to 2-person outfits hoping, with the aide of federal contracts, to become 6-person outfits. All the groups have several things in common. Among them:

A strong interest in America "the beautiful."

A strong desire to lend their expertise to government that, despite its 2.6 million full-time workers, still hires hundreds of thousands of outsiders regularly.

A strong desire to get some of the money agencies are spending.

The unsophisticated taxpayer might think that environmental protection and research would be handled, in the main, by the Environmental Protection Agency. It does spend approximately $5 billion, but it is not alone. Other agencies and departments that are spending money for environmental matters include:

The EPA... Defense Department... Agriculture Department... Interior Department... Transportation Department... Commerce Department... National Aeronautics and Space Administration... Labor Department... HEW... Tennessee Valley Authority... Nuclear Regulatory Agency... Energy Department... Appalachian Regional Commission... VA... National Science Foundation... Smithsonian Institution and, of course, the Department of State.

Maybe Congress can set up a department to find out what all those departments are doing in this area. There must be consultants who could help....

Dirty (Pay) Pool: Thousands of workers who perform personal services at defense installations are still waiting for pay raises that came due in October. The so-called non-appropriated fund (NAF) workers are among the lowest paid in the federal service. They receive increases based on private sector pay in their locality.

More than 4,000 NAF people here, and thousands more in other areas, came due for raises -- of up to 8 percent -- months ago. But the increases have been held up, pending a decision on whether the boosts can exceed the 5.5 percent lid President Carter and Congress have imposed on federal workers (except the postal service).

White-collar and blue-collar workers at least received 5.5 percent, the NAF people have not. The National Federation of Federal Employes has gone to court seeking full raises (as have other unions). Now, NFFE's executive board has asked the government to at least allow employes retroactive raises for 5.5 percent until the dispute is determined by the courts.

Postal Layoff Decision: Special arbitrator James J. Healy is expected to issue a final decision today on the right of the postal service to fire surplus workers. Under terms of the contract between the Postal Service and major unions, employes on the payroll as of last September are protected from layoffs. But the USPS and unions couldn't agree on layoff protection for newer workers so Healy, who resolved most disputed issues in the contract, will make the judgment today.

Fran Kaplan is the new executive secretary of FEW (Federally Employed Women, Inc.) headquartered here. She had been with Health, Education and Welfare in Atlanta. Other FEW officers named by president Dorothy Nelms are Ana Marie Perera, president of the Cuban-American Women, and Betsy Singer of the National Institutes of Health.

Defense Jobs: President Carter's proposed budget shows the Office of the Secretary of Defense gaining 1,300 new jobs during the next fiscal year. That annoyed many OSD workers, since there were layoffs there only a short time ago.

The "increase" actually does not mean OSD will be hiring new people. Those new jobs are the result of the transfer of employes in the Panama Canal Zone to the OSD payroll.