The General Accounting Office says the government cannot use salary money intended for "frozen" federal executives to give merit raises to any of the 125,000 workers who go under a carrot-and-stick program designed to reward the best of Uncle Sam's Grade 13, 14 and 15 crop and punish poor performers.

The Office of Personnel Mangement had intended to implement merit pay (part of President Carter's civil service reform act) beginning this month. But GAO, the congressional watchdog agency, objected to OPM's blueprint, so OPM was forced to scrap merit pay this time around and give supervisors and managers the same 4.8 percent raise their subordinates are due.

Under merit pay, supervisors and managers next year will be guaranteed only half of the pay raise that other white collar feds get automatically in October. Merit pay people who get good marks from their bosses will get significantly more than the regular October increase.

Money to finance the merit pay raises will come from a pool of funds intended for the regular percentage increase (this year 4.8 percent) for the merit pay people, and from money that would have been used to give longevity raises and quality step increases. Longevity pay raises -- worth 3 percent -- and QSI's are no longer being given to GS 13 through GS 15 people under the merit pay system.

GAO said that OPM's original merit pay plan intended to use money that should go to executives whose salaries are frozen (the ceiling currently is $50,112.50) to finance bigger merit raises for lower level workers. GAO objected to that, and said that agencies were confused over methods they were to use rate supervisors-managers for merit pay.

So it put the "pay" part of merit pay on hold until OPM can come up with clearer guidelines. Meantime, Grade 13, 14 and 15 personnel will get the same 4.8 percent this month as their subordinates but they will not be eligible for longevity raises.

More than 40,000 people here have been or will be shifted to the merit pay system. Many question how it will work, some wonder if it will work. If you are one of them, get a copy of the GAO report (dated Sept. 11, no. B-204477) to see what changes the congressional agency wants before full merit pay can go into effect.