Federal agencies within the next few months will get firing guidelines they must follow if they plan layoffs of their elite, Senior Executive Service personnel. SES takes in most of the government's supergraders at the $500,000-plus pay range. Because they are outside rhe regular civil service, special RIF (reduction-in-force) procedures must be followed if agencies want to remove them from the SES.

RIF regulations relating to the SES are in the final stages at the Office of Personnel Management. They should be publishes by mid-May.

Federal officials say the timing of the upcoming RIF regulations -- in the wake of major budget and job cuts proposed by President Reagan -- is coincidential. They say the RIF planning began before the November election but final regulations were delayed because of suggestions and changes proposed by different agencies. Nevertheless, word that special RIF rules are coming has unnerved the SES community, which is concentrated here.

SES has a ceiling of 8,600 positions. There are about 1,200 vacancies, and President Reagan has frozen SES hiring, except for noncareer (political) positions. SES was created by President Carter's Civil Service Reform Act and was designated to make executives more mobile and responsive to their top management. In return for giving up tenure, SES brass were supposed to get higher pay (this has been blocked by Congress and the White House) and industry-style bonuses.

By law, 80 percent of the SES jobs are supposed to be "career" positions that are filed by merit. Fifteen percent of the jobs are "noncareer" or political, and the remaining 5 percent are reserved for emergency appointments. p

The RIF guidelines being reviewed at the OPM will provide the "skeleton" from which agencies can fashion their own layoff procedures for the senior servants. Noncareer or political SES members can be removed anytime.

The SES, created two years ago, never has gone through a change of administrations. To prevent a new president from removing or reassigning career workers, the Civil Service Reform Act provided a 120-day "getting to know you period" during which time career SES aides cannot be transfered against their will. That three-month countdown period started Jan. 20, when Reagan was inaugurated.

In a regular federal layoff, the rule is the last hired are the first fired.

Senior employes whose jobs are abolished can "bump" less senior workers out of their jobs. One of the unresolved issues in the upcoming Ses RIF guidelines is what kind of seniority -- if any -- system will be used to protect individuals.

Officials say the new rules, which must be cleared by OPM-director designate Donald J. Devine, may count some kind of seniority. Or they may not. Insiders predict that the rules, when they come out, will discount previous federal service and start and SES member's seniority. That would offer few opportunities for "bumping," since the vast majority of SES members came in at the same time two years ago.

Devine, who must be confirmed by the Senate, headed Reagan's election campaign in Maryland and Delaware. He's been an associate professor at the University of Maryland since 1967, and headed the Reagan transition team at OPM. In 1978 he ran, unsuccessfully, against Maryland Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, a Democrat.