Despite budget cuts in federal programs and an anticipated executive pay freeze, approximately 500 career federal officers will get cash bonuses or awards this summer worth between $1,500 and $19,000.

Federal agencies are in the process of picking senior-level careerists who will be given the awards.

This will be the first time Uncle Sam has given out private-industry bonuses on a large scale. The program will be expanded greatly next year. Since most of the 7,000 eligible executives work in metro Washington, it is estimated that seven out of 10 cash awards will go to people here.

President Carter's civil service reform act set up a system of bonuses and awards ranging from maximum lump-sum payments of $20,000 to amounts worth up to 20 percent of salary. Because of ceilings on top federal pay, the maximum bonus or award this year will be $19,000.

There are two distinct bonus-reward systems. One deals with special presidential awards to career executives. Along with cash, they get special titles of either "distinguished" and "meritorious." Between 350 and 450 executives this year will get "meritorious" awards worth up to $10,000. A smaller number -- between 50 and 75 this year -- will be rated "distinguished" and given awards that, under the current pay ceiling, cannot exceed $19,000. All awards are subject of income tax.

The Office of Personnel Management will cull agency nominations for the two top awards and make recommendations to the White House.President Carter is supposed to make final selections and present the awards by Oct. 1.

A larger number of awards can be made by individual agencies and departments -- within given quota limits. Those awards can be worth up to 20 percent of salary for SES members. The top award this year will be around $10,000.

Officials expect between 50 percent and 60 percent of the career SES work force eventually will get some kind of cash award, once the program is running in all agencies. Most SES members (about 85 percent) earn $50,112.50. None of the awards can boost an executive's total annual pay in one year beyond the ceiling of $69,630.

Some agencies are further along with the machinery of rating employes for bonuses than others. Departments and agencies that expect to make the awards this year include Small Business Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Veterans Administration and Commerce, Justice, Agriculture and HEW also are working hard on guidelines they will use to rate executives and award bonuses.

The U.S. Postal Service has beaten everybody to the gun. Although a semiindependent corporation, the USPS has its own version of the SES (called the Postal Career Executive Service) that includes about 800 top management people.

The USPS program provides awards of between $5,000 and $10,000 for top career officials. Twenty-two award winners already have been picked, most of them for special achievement bonuses of $7,500 or less. Washington area bonus winners at the USPS include general counsel Louis A. Cox; Walter E. Duka, assistant postmaster general for communications; Robert H. McCutcheon, assistant PMG for procurement-supply; associate general counsel Stephen E. Alpern; Charles R. Clauson, assistant chief postal inspector; Harold Hughes, assistant general counsel, and general manager Gerrit J. Verhoeff.