Inflation is drying the cost of the federal civilian pension program up at the rate of $60 million to $80 million every 12 months.

The pension price tag will jump $37.9 million today when a cost-of-living raise for retired civil service and postal workers goes into effect. Costs for military retirees, who also will get the increase, could and another $25 million or so to the federal retirement package.

Federal civilian retirees living in Washington, Maryland and Virginia will get a before-taxes annuity increase of $5.9 million effective today. The extra money will show up in checks mailed to the 100,000-plus retirees in the immediate metro area for delivery in early Paril.

Although federal retirees ae suffering from the effects of inflation and high cost of living, they are fortunate to be linked to the Consumer Price Index, which measures living cost changes. Retirees get two automatic raises each year, effective March 1 and Sept. 1. The March 1 increase of 3.9 percent reflects the increases in living costs for the previous six months as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Carter administration officials, worried about the cost and compounding effect of the semi-annual retiree raises, had planned to ask Congress to cut it back to one raise a year.

But Defense Department officials protested the plan, arguing that with all the problems of the all-volunteer military, and various military retirement studies going on, this is not the time to act.

In effect that left the administration with the option tof asking Congress to eliminate the twice-yearly raises for civilian retirees while keepting them for the military.

Insiders expect the White House, perhaps next year, to revive the pension cutback proposal to include both civilian and military retirees. In the meantime, both groups will continue to get two raises a year based on living cost changes.

Hatch Act: Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo.) has reintroduced legislation to grant full political participation rights to federal and postal workers. They are now covered by the 1939 Hatch Act which limits active involvement in partisan politics and campaigns.

The House has cleared Clay's Hatch Act changes before, but the bill has bogged down in the Senate. That is due mainly to a lack of pressure from the White House, and opposition to the changes from Sen. Abraham Ribicoff (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

This time around, Clay is trying a new strategy. He has introduced two Hatch Act "liberalization" bills. One covers white-collar and blue-collar federal employes. The second one, and one that stands the best chance of becoming law, covers the 650,000 rank-and-file postal workers.

Postal employes are the second most unionized group in government (next to Tennessee Valley Authority workers), and the most anxious to get into partisan political activity. Their major unions -- Letter Carriers, American Postal Workers and Mailhandlers -- have done most of the lobbying, spending and educating in Congress to win "reforms."

Clay, who heads the subcommittee on postal personnel and modernization, says both bills contain sufficient safeguards to protect workers from political arm-twisting by their bosses.

AFL-CLO lobbyists, who have been fighting hardest for the Hatch Act changes, hope to come up with a "name" champion in the Senate shortly to push the bill. They are confident the House will approve the legislation again.

Meantime, unions are pressing White House contacts to remind President Carter that candidate Carter promised to support the Hatch Act changes three years ago. They think they can do it this year, but only if they are backed by the same kind of interest and zeal the president showed in winning civil service reform. Some skeptis believe that now that civil service "reform" is law, the White House isn't so anxious for political "reform."