Donald J. Devine, a 43-year-old political science professor at the University of Maryland, has the inside tract to be the new director of the Office of Personnel Management. OPM is in charge of implementing -- and interpreting -- policies for most of the government's 2,876,252 workers.

Insiders expect that Devine, who heads the seven-member transition team at the OPM (the old Civil Service Commission), will formally be named next week. He would succeed Alan K. Campbell, who resigned Dec. 5 to take a top personnel and public relations job with ARA, a Philadelphia based food-service company that runs a number of government cafeterias and dining rooms.

Devine's OPM transition team was one of the first Reagan operations to move into a federal agency. Members have been learning the ropes on how to handle the government personnel-policy office, and monitoring recent agency personnel action.

Team leaders have met with federal personnel directors hoping to assure them that the career service is safe from the new GOP leaders. They also have asked officials to report any instances where agencies attempted to switch clearly political appointees to career positions where they could not be fired.

The Reagan administration will have a clear shot at replacing about 2,700 so-called Schedule C personnel. They are political, policy-making and confidential aides (ranging from secretaries to chauffeurs and cabinet aides) who serve at the pleasure of the president or his appointees.

In addition, the Reagan administration will be able to make significant changes in the Senior Executive Service. The SES -- created by President Carter's civil service reform act -- takes in about 8,500 jobs (mostly at the $50,000 pay level) that formerly were in Grades 16, 17 and 18. SES members, under the reform act, can be more easily transferred, or kicked out of the SES, if they don't measure up. Although fe people expect big changes in the SES, new job evaluations for them can begin 120 days after the new president takes office.

Devine, a Bronxville, N.Y., native, has been at Maryland since 1967. He's a member of the American Conservative Union and was an early (1976) Reagan-for-President activist in Maryland.

Career OPM employes say the Devine transition team has been "very professional" with a "deep understanding" of the complexities of the political and merit sides of government. Devine has stressed that President-elect Reagan understands the importance of a good relationship with the career bureuacracy, and is anxious to "quiet fears that it will be shaken up."

The transition team includes R. Timothy McNamar, a California attorney, Bo Denysyk, a former Navy physicist; Terry W. Culler, vice president for corporate planning of Dynamic Data Processing Inc., in Maryland; John R. Bolton, one-time editor of the Yale Law Review and an attorney with Covington Burling (an expert on the Hatch "no politics" Act); Vincent F. DeCain, of Trans Freight Lines here (and a one-time employe of the U.S. Postal Rate Commission) . . . and public relations executive Carol Bauman, wife of former Eastern Shore Republican congressman Bob Bauman.

Devine, who has been rumored as the next OPM head since the transition team was formed, couldn't be reached for comment yesterday. But OPM watchers say the job -- a dreamboat slot for a professor of government -- is his, if he wants it.