As the nation's problems with inflation, recession and unemployment grow, so too does the number of federal workers here whose job it is to monitor and help solve problems of inflation, recession and unemployment. Hard times for the rest of the nation usually produce a job boom here.

Right now there are more people working for the federal government in metro Washington than at any time, or during any crisis, in the nation's history.

In June of this year, the government's regular mid-year headcount of its workers showed the official number of U.S. civil servants in the District of Columbia, nearby Maryland and Virginia hit a record-high total of 370,964. That is more people than the government had here during the peak of World War II, at the height of the Korean of Vietnam Wars or even during the rapid growth period of President Johnson's "Great Society."

Ironically, much of the federal employe population explosion here has been created by, and taken place within, Congress, and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. HEW did not exist until the early 1950s. HEW now has almost 170,000 workers nationwide, and it has become the largest employer -- public or private -- in the Washington area. The average white collar salary here now exceeds $22,000 per year.

The official figures of the federal presence here do not include some workers in super-secret operations like the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, which could add an additional 20,000 to 35,000 to the totals; nor do they include 50,000 District of Columbia Government workers whose pay and grade-levels are tied to the federal government. They also exclude the 70,000-plus retired federal workers here on pensions adjusted every six months for inflation, or the 60,000-plus military stationed here.

Even though federal employment here is bigger than ever, nationwide the number of U.S. employes is almost 1 million less than the 3.8 million peak of 1945. Today there are 2,949 million full-time and part-time federal workers employed by the government.

Locally, in 1944 the government had 270,019 employes. That number declined steadily until the Korean war broke out. Then it jumped back up to 265,980 in mid- 1951. It never hits its World War II high until 1964-65 when the Great Society buildup began, increasing job totals in social-action agencies.

There was a big civilian job buildup as the Vietnam war peaked in the late 1960s, but most of it was outside Washington.

The Defense Department, while still the biggest federal employer, has been steadily losing employes while HEW appears to be the most rapid gainer. HEW had only 35,000 workers nationwide when it was formed in 1953. Today it has more than that number in headquarters here.

The fact that the government's head is growing faster than its body could prove embarrassing to President Carter. He campaigned on a platform to streamline the bureaucracy, reduce the number of federal agencies and get government moved to the grass roots level. Like others before him, the realities of government and personnel demands of his own appointees have contributed to greater centralization.

Data on metropolitan area federal employment is slightly midleading, since the size of the metro area (therefore the number of employes counted) has grown over the years. But that change -- in numbers of workers counted -- is relatively insignificant. The fact is that Washington and suburban Maryland and Virginia counties now have more federal workers than ever before and that steady growth has continued since the end of World War II, even with ups and downs.

For example, look at federal employment here in the first full-year in office of the following presidents:

Eisenhower -- 242,678 (a drop of 19,000 from the year before).

Kennedy -- 246,226, an increase of nearly 7,000 from the previous year.

Johnson -- 266,737 when he took office and 328,077 when he left.

Nixon -- 328,077 when he became president and 343,355 at the time of his resignation.

Ford -- 343,335 to 357,808 by June 1976.

Carter -- 360,464 by June 1977 rising to 370,964 by June, 1979.