Ever since the Lincoln administration, federal bureaucrats have groused about being paid less than their private sector counterparts and of being treated more rottenly than people who make buggy whip handles or, recently, computer software.

Government secretaries say corporations are cusher; U.S. executives dream of country clubs and six-figure salaries awaiting them in industry; federal doctors and lawyers wonder why they hang around Uncle Sam when their talents outside would attract dollars like a magnet picks up iron shavings.

Outside of Washington and environs (sometimes cruelly called Disneyland East by less sophisticated Americans) the bureaucrats' lament is typically greeted with hoots and jeers. Minority group members in D.C. (anybody who doesn't work for the government) wonder what it is all about since we have no reference point in this company town.

Turns out the feds may be on to something. Those of you who are into wood pulp in Oregon, frankfurter frying in Indianapolis or heavy machinery in Ann Arbor may be the lucky ones, says the government.

A couple of new studies by the Labor Department (a branch of the U.S. Government) show that private sector salaries are going up faster than those in government, and that federal fringes aren't so hot when stacked up against those of selected firms in industry.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that professional, technical and administrative wages in industry rose an average 9.8 percent from March 1980 to March 1981, while pay of clericals (except secretaries) jumped 9.6 percent. That BLS study is one of the things federal gurus consult each year when they decide how much of an increase white-collar bureaucrats should get in October. The feds got 9.1 percent last year, more because Jimmy Carter thought it would be a nice preelection gesture than to answer union charges that a 13 percent federal increase was due based on previous BLS data.

This year President Reagan, the Senate and House (which takes in just about everybody that counts) have set a 4.8 percent ceiling on the amount of the raise the government's 1 million white-colar workers -- 300,000 of them here -- can expect.

Another BLS study (USDL 18-329 if you like reading charts of numbers) shows that white-collar private industry types often have fringe benefits and paid time off that is superior to what Uncle ysam offers his workers. Although the federal retirement program is rated one of the best in the world, workers do pay 7 percent of their salary for it, while private firms that offer pension plans -- many don't -- tend to pay the full cost themselves.

Federal workers get nine holidays a year (Washington area people get a bonus, Inauguration Day every four years) while the BLS says that the firms it surveyed tended to give an average of 10.1 holidays (the "point one" part is not explained) to their people.

Vacations in the private firms surveyed average 8.7 days after one year of service, 15.7 days after 10 years; 20.6 days after 20 years. By contrast federal workers earn 13 days a year for the first 3 years, 20 days per year through the 15th year, and 26 days per year thereafter.

BLS says 75 percent of the workers in firms it surveyed have all their health insurance premiums paid by the boss. Feds pick up a major portion of their insurance premiums.

Job security is not mentioned because it is difficult to put a pricetag on tenure. Layoffs in government are much rarer than in industry -- which is why a projected RIF of 3,400 people from a workforce of 376,000 is a disaster here that Detroit would shrug off.

The BLS survey means one of two things: (1) Uncle Sam is no longer the nation's most generous big employer; or (2) BLS needs to survey some different firms next year.