Federal workers came very close -- within one vote in the Senate last week -- to getting no pay raise this year.

The Senate Budget Committee deadlocked 6 to 6 on an amendment by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) that would have deferred the 4.8 precent increase President Reagan has proposed for October 1981 until the fall of 1982. Since budget amendments require a majority, the Grassley plan was "defeated" even though the committee split evenly on the Zero raise proposal.

Last-minute lobbying by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and federal union leaders produced the deadlock, which means the 4.8-percent raise is still alive and kicking. But for federal white collar workers, who are said to be 13 percent behind private industry pay rates, the good news -- of a 4.8 percent raise -- isn't all that great. Nor is the 4.8 percent -- which would be the smallest pay raise for federal workers in decades -- out of the woods yet.

Several conservative Senate and House members are talking about legislative maneuvers later in the session that could, if passed, reduce the October raise or kill it completely.

Federal and postal union lobbyists got a "realistic" closed door briefing Tuesday from House Democratic leaders they look to for protection against President Reagan's budget cuts, which will reduce the size of the U.S. work force, limit U.S. federal-military retirees to a single cost-of-living raise each year and hold the October pay raise below the 5.5 percent amount recommended by former President Carter in his lame-duck budget. The word is that while congressional Democrats may be able to block Reagan's pay reform plan (considered a disaster by most U.S. workers), feds will be lucky to get even a 4.8 percent raise.

Reagan's pay reform plan, described by one union lobbyist as a "Carter joke that has been translated into a nightmare" would change the system Uncle Sam uses to come up with annual catchup-with-industry pay raises. In addition to formula changes that would reduce raises due federal workers, the Reagan plan would limit white collar civil servants (there are about 300,000 in the metro Washington area) to 94 percent of the average annual increase for similar jobs in the private sector.

The White House says that because of greater job security in the bureaucracy, and generally superior federal fringe benefits (something many feds would dispute) the catchup raise due them should be pegged at 94 percent of the industry wage gain.

This is the situation: The Senate has approved a budget that allows a maximum federal white collar raise this year of 4.8 percent. It could be less. The House Budget Committee has cleared similar language, and approval by the House is expected shortly. So if you work for Uncle Sam in a white collar job, don't plan on more than 4.8 percent this year, and consider yourself lucky if your raise is that high.