Nearly one-fourth of the entire federal work force is eligible to retire right now. And if feds are as fed up as they say they are, because of job jitters, sagging morale, peanut-size pay raises and RIF (reduction in force) winds that are howling, it may be that lots of them will decide to cash in on a sizable retiree's pay raise next year -- before anybody tampers with the government's early retirement system.

Federal and military retirees (and survivors) are due a cost-of-living raise next March. It will be worth at least 7.9 percent. The way inflation is going (up), those retirement checks, which are linked to the cost of living, should get a substantial, badly needed transfusion by the time they are delivered in April 1982.

Government annuities (formerly adjusted every six months) now go up once a year, in March. They reflect the COL, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, for the previous year. That means retirees -- and there are 100,000 of them here -- will get a March 1982 adjustment equal to the living cost rise for all of 1981.

The August Consumer Price Index boosted the retiree raise (for March 1982) to 6.9 percent. The CPI data released Friday for the month of September moved that figure up to 7.9 percent. There are still three months left in the countdown -- October, November, December -- before the final amount of the 1982 retiree raise is set.

The 300,000-plus white-collar and nonpostal blue-collar federal workers here received a 4.8 percent October raise. They may be lucky to get that much next year. Federal executives, some of whom have not had a raise in several years, missed out on the 4.8 percent raise. There is a slim chance they will get an adjustment in November, but that depends on the mood of Congress, which, fresh from voting itself higher limits on outside income as well as tax breaks, doesn't have much incentive to make the voters angry by giving $50,000-a-year bureaucrats a raise, no matter how long they have been denied one.