Senate and House leaders worried about a government brain drain feel there is a 50-50 chance that "frozen" federal executives will get an October pay raise, that could boost top career pay to about $58,000 per year.

Congress and the White House, for political and economic reasons, have kept a $50,112.50 pay lid on the bureaucracy several years. Because rank-and-file employes have received regular October adjustments, thousands of U.S. workers from the mid-Grade 15 range to GS18 and the elite Senior Executive Service all get the same size pay check.

Various congressional committees, the General Accounting Office and professional groups have collected data showing that large numbers of top-drawer officials are retiring earlier than expected, often to take better-paying jobs in industry. A growing number of executives who retired a dozen years ago now get pensions -- thanks to twice-yearly inflation catch ups -- that equal or exceed what they would be making on the job today.

Sen. Ted Stevens is the driving force behind the executive pay raise plans which, if they come off, would exclude members of Congress. The Senior Executive Association, Federal Managers Association and other groups have been button-holing congressional Democrats and Republicans to get support for a long-overdue executive raise. Insiders say the president is anxious to do something for career (and political) appointees in the pay department. They expect he will endorse a pay raise this summer, if the political waters are right and if the economy shows signs of improving.

There are a couple of ways an executive pay raise could come about. One would be legislation granting them a flat percentage boost this October when white collar civil servants are due to get a 4.8 percent raise. Easiest way, however, would be to drop an executive pay ban contained in a current continuing resolution. Typically when Congress wants to freeze out top-level bureaucrats it puts the language in the Legislative Branch appropriations bill.

If past-frozen pay increases are defrosted, some executives would get raises of around 16.8 percent. That is what they missed out on -- that subordinates got -- in recent years. The plan is to limit any executive increase to the maximum amount payable for political executives in Level 5. That is $58,500. Grade 18 and most GS17 personnel, plus members of the SES, would move up accordingly.