Senate-House conferees will decide this week what kind of bonuses top federal career officials can be given this year for outstanding performance. Eight out of 10 of the eligible executives live in the metropolitan area.

The House has set a combined pay-bonus maximum of $52,750 for members of the Senior Executive Service. That lid is contained in the $16 billion supplemental appropriation bill that has cleared both the Senate and House, in different forms.

Since most members of the high-risk SES already earn more than $50,000, the House limit on bonuses doesn't leave much room for the big payoffs (up to 20 percent of salary) that Congress and the White House promised supergrade bureaucrats who entered the SES.

Stunned by the bonus limit of the House, administration officials mustered a massive lobbying effort in the Senate last week. They pointed out that the House acted out of misinformation about the SESS bonus system, and warned that limiting the bonuses to "token" amounts could gut the SES and civil service reform. (The lobbying effort was an interesting -- successful -- story in itself. More on it this week).

The end result of the round-the-clock lobbying effort, pushed by the Office of Personnel Management's Alan K. Campbell, was that the Senate late Saturday night approved a supplemental appropriation that doesn't limit SES pay-bonuses.

The supplemental bill goes to a Senate-House conference today and the SES pay-bonus is one of the issues that must be decided this year. Administration officials are hoping a compromise of around $60,000 or more will be approved.