EEO (equal employment opportunity) is the get-ahead, growth stock of the future for federal managers seeking higher pay, or simply seeking to hold on to their jobs.

Government departments are preparing to switch to a merit pay system for most mid-level executives. And one of the primary ways to get merit pay raises will be close identification with EEO progress.

Under the merit pay system that some agencies will adopt this year, most employes in Grade 13, 14 and 15 will not get full annual pay raises unless they demonstrate that they are doing their jobs well. Full-sized automatic annual pay raises will be denied officials, unless they get good marks on new report cards being prepared in government.

And one way to get top marks is to demonstrate a commitment to EEO programs government-wide, and in their own agencies. For supervisors it will mean seeking out, hiring, training and promoting minorities. For people outside the supervisory ranks -- managers and other mid-level officials not concerned directly with supervision or hiring -- it will mean getting more closely involved in EEO programs in their agencies.

Take the case of what is happening in the Navy, one of the largest employers of federal civilians and the second-largest agency (next to HEW) in metropolitan Washington. Navy plans to shift 90 percent of its Grade 13, 14 and 15 personnel to the merit pay system. Future raises for them (beginning in October 1981) will be pegged to performance as measured by their bosses.

One of the primary goals in each individual employes' performance appraisal system will be "active participation in EEO programs."

Navy officials say this means they must "acquire knowledge and training in the EEO area." Or they must also act as EEO officials within their own unit, shop or branch. Most Navy merit promotion plans -- as with most other federal agency programs -- will require that an EEO official be "present during the ranking process" when employes are rated for promotional potential.

Officials also will be urged to serve on an EEO activity, such as campus recruiting, or to draw up plans that will lead to expanded recruiting efforts in minority colleges, among women's groups and among ethnic (Hispanic) groups. i

Federal officials, under merit pay, will be urged to attend training courses relating to EEO, or to set them up and run them personally.

Carter administration officials have set goals (but not, they say, quotas) to step up minority recruiting. That is mandated in the new Civil Service Reform Act under language written by Rep. Robert Garcia (D-N.Y.).

"Merit pay raises will be based on a number of factors, or 'critical elements' in each job," a top official said. While EEO will not be written into the critical elements most agencies are setting up, "one of the clear goals, the first goal in many instances, will be identification with EEO programs," the official said. "You could call EEO the hot prospect, the growth stock of the future in government."