Bureaucrats who want to retire in their 40s and 50s to cash in on cost-of-living pension adjustments and create breathing space for junior colleagues on layoff lists face long odds on leaving government via the once wide-open "early-out" route.

U.S. workers whose jobs are wiped out via White House or congressionally ordered reshuffles or RIFs (reductions in force) can retire early -- at age 43 if they started federal careers at age 18 -- on immediate, reduced pensions.Federal retirement benefits are indexed to the cost of living, with raises every six months, and many "retired" federal and military personnel make second careers in the private sector.

Agencies that get permission (from the Office of Personnel Management) can offer early-outs in RIF and reeorganizational situations. Workers can take immediate retirement if they are at least 50 with 20 years' federal/military service or at any age with 25 years' service.

Even though annuities are reduced for young (under 55) early retirees, many government employes would take it to link up with the twice-yearly COL raises. Those increases, because of inflation and "capped" federal pay raises, have been bigger and more frequent than adjustments for regular civil servants.

Many persons who retired in the mid-1960s and 1970s get bigger pensions today than those that will be paid to employes retiring this year from jobs at the same grade and salary level. Inflation boosts have outstripped regular pay raises.

Officials who would like to avoid RIFs had counted on attrition -- normal turnover because of death, retirement, resignation -- to do much of their staff pruning. The House-Senate Task Force on Government Service estimates that about 4,400 of the area's more than 360,000 feds will be laid off this summer.

But the number of people leaving government voluntarily has dropped dramatically this year because of uncertain economic conditions. Unless retirements pick up dramatically, many agencies will have to fire people to get down to end-of-fiscal-year (Sept. 30) ceilings.

To stimulate retirements, some agencies facing RIFs are trying to get early-out authority from OPM. But OPM, blasted during the Carter administration as too free and easy (especially with itself) with early-out favors, is now rejecting agency requests for blanket early-outs.

OPM is telling them to limit requests to people, jobs, and areas or units directly in front of the RIF steamroller. It wants to be sure that the RIFs are real, not set up to provide early retirement for friends or to get rid of card-carrying dullards. Following is the early-out request list that OPM is studying; note that most are tailored for special groups or areas, rather than blanket requests to cover anyone old enough who wants out.

Commerce is asking early-out authority for Maritime Administration headquarters aides, a nationwide early-out for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration workers and for the Economic Development Administration. Interior wants it for all eligible workers of the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service.

Environmental Protection Agency wants to give early-outs to groups of workers in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Cincinnati. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission wants the early-out to cover all eligible employes, regardless of grade or location.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration wants OPM to let it have early-outs at the Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala. Justice is seeking early-outs for workers in units here facing RIFs. a

Labor is seeking early-outs for Employment and Training Administration regional employes in specific (GS 243 and GS 318) job series, some regional aides of the Employment Standards Administration and for a group here in the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.