Question: What do political appointees of the Carter administration have in common with the Florida manatee, the whooping crane, the black-footed ferret and the southern bald eagle?

Answer: All are endangered species!

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, time is running out for the two birds and the manatee. Nobody has, for sure, seen a black-footed ferret (a weasel-like animal that eats prairie dogs) for years.

According to the Reagan administration, time is about to run out for Carter aides who -- at their peak they numbered about 6,000 -- today can be found during the daylight in a few federal buildings, nervously watching the door, the interoffice mail and the calendar.

Like lemmings that know when their time has come, hundreds of Carter appointees headed out of government shortly after the Nov. 4 debacle. Some, those in VIP-type jobs, went back from whence they came or to better-paying jobs, their worth enhanced by their years here and contacts they made, sometimes in industries they regulated while still government officials.

But hundreds of former Carter aides have found the return to the real world a painful experience. Many have been unable to land jobs. Hunting has been especially tough for mid-level people who have big Washington-style mortgages to meet and find old friends from government, industry and even the media suddenly unavailable for lunch or too busy to return telephone calls.

The job-hunting situation has been difficult for Democratic congressional staffers who lost jobs in the election, especially on the Senate side. Many who had hoped to move into "downtown" (executive branch) jobs if their boss lost the election got a big jolt when the Senate and the White House went Republican. "I've got dozens of people, old friends and coworkers, I've been trying to help," said the Democratic staff director of a committee. "But this hiring freeze, not mention their politics, is making it tough."

Many people suspect that Reagan made the freeze retroactive (to Nov. 5) in part to block any influx of about-to-be-unemployed Democrats from coming into government. Despite a partial hiring freeze slapped on government by President Carter, the number of people hired by government jumped in November and December, when it should have been going down at the rate of about 700 jobs per day.