Carter Administration officials are desperately trying to stop a major search-and-employ exercise that is sweeping the bureaucracy.

People who work in federal offices are calling friends who don't, but would like too and advising them to come in fast for an interview, fill outthe necessary forms and get onboard before the gangplank is pulled up.

The fears of a hiring freeze have been spurred by the rumor mill -- which has a bigger circulation than the Post and Star combined -- which has it on reliable authority that Jimmy Carter, the political fox, will slap a complete and total freeze by Oct. 1.

It is a great story in a town like this where nearly everybody works for the government, has an aunt that does, or would like to get into government. Just one problem with the rumor. It ain't true! Not a word or it, according to the White House which ought to know about such things.

Carter aides say there is no plan to slap a total freeze on federal hiring, or on promotions, and there never has been. In fact the Carter people have been having a field day with a statement from GOP candidate Ronald Reagan to the effect that he would slap a freeze on federal hiring as soon as he is sworn into office and controls the button to do that sort of thing.

The fact is that federal hiring has been subject to a partial freeze since earlier this year. Rumors of that freeze (reported here two weeks before it hit) spurred a spring rush to get more people hired, or at least get their applications in the pipeline.

Thousands of people were hired before the freeze -- which limits agencies to one replacement for every two vacancies that crop up -- in hopes of somehow beating it. The Carter Administration countered, allowing agencies to take on people promised jobs before the freeze but then making the 1 for 2 replacement rule retroactive, thus forcing agencies to be even more selective in hiring down the line.

Effect of jumping the gun on the freeze early this year was that federal employment actually increased for a time after the hiring ban was imposed-but then began to taper off rather dramatically. In fact from April to May of this year there was a 5,846 decrease in the number of full-time federal employes on the payroll. The target of the Administration is to have a 20,000 job cutback, via the existing partial freeze, by Oct. 1 of this year.

With the near-record number of retirees-last August, that goal of 20,000 fewer jobs ought to be recognized easily.

"We would be stupid, and dishonest to slap a full freeze on now," a Carter aide said. "We have been making fun of Reagan for not knowing there is a partial freeze in effect. How could we turn around and adopt his tactics with a total freeze now?" How indeed?

So the word from on high is no freeze. And agencies that continue the panic hiring will soon be hearing from the strongarm folks at the Office of Management and Budget, is the other word.