Government is quickly becoming the place to look for students, housewives and professionals who want permanent, part-time work.

Once a bureaucratic tool often used to skirt personnel budget ceilings, the part-time slots are becoming more respectable and growing at the rate of nearly 8,000 new jobs per year.

Many of the new part timers are former full-time workers. They are often younger women or people in midcareer who need to keep working, but want to devote more time to children or education.

The Carter administration and Congress have made it more attractive for agencies to create part-time slots,and taken some steps to make sure that agencies don't bring on the part timers simply because they cannot hire full-time workers.

Until just a few years ago the number of permanent part-time federal workers held steady at about 39,000. Now the figure has more than doubled. Many agencies are creating more new part-time jobs.

Greater use of part timers is a way to help students, housewives and a growing number of professionals earn money while letting the government get work done at lower cost. Federal unions are watching the program closely to make sure it doesn't eliminate bona fide full timers.

Politically, the big drawback to part timer growth is that it will increase the overall number of federal workers-opening Carter to charges of bloating the bureaucracy-at a time when employment of full timers is actually declinig. Costs will be roughly the same, or even less. But the number of bodies on the payroll-always fair game for the political party out of power-will go up. And that could look bad.

Five agencies, ranging from giant service organizations to small regulatory bodies, are experimenting with a new accounting system that encourages part-time hiring.It allows them to count workers by hours of service, rather than actual on-board bodies.

Agencies involved in the new hour-count system are the Veterans Administration, General Services Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Export-Import Bank, and the Federal Trade Commission. If you are looking for part-time federal employment, those are five good places to try.

Internal Revenue Service has set up 80 part-time jobs for professionals in the Dallas region. Social Security, always a big user of part timers, has been experimenting with replacing full-time workers in New York and Chicago with part timers.

At least one agency in Washington has its legal staff checking the possibility of job sharing, perhaps permitting a husband-wife team to split a 40-hour week.

(If onlu Lee Marvin had thought of that!)

Part timers with permanent status can credit all their service time toward retirement. Obviously they get smaller pensions, since pay is lower. But the full-service credit is an inducement few industries offer.

Government agencies pay the same share of health benefits premiums for current part timers as for full-time employes. Under a change in the law, however, part-time employes hired after April 6, will have their health premium shares prorated on the amount of time they work. They will get the same benefits as full-time workers, but pay more for them.

Congress has changed the definition of a part-time workers, which once was anyone working less than a 40-hour week on a regular basis. The new part timer is anyone work more than 16 hours to maximum of 32 hours per week.

The idea behind the hours change is to discourage agencies from skirting job ceilings, or eliminating full timers by hiring a part timer who regularly works a 39-hour week.

Officials concede that the first big surge in part-time hiring came because those jobs were exempt from a partial hiring freeze the president slapped on agencies. Since the lid has come off, however, the number of part-time jobs has continued to increase.

Opportunities for people wanting part-time work are growing. But so far, many of the newly created jobs are being filled by people already "inside" government. Over the coming months officials hope to bring more new people into government as 16- to 32-hour permanent civil servants.