The Internal Revenue Service is pursuing hundreds of Washington-area taxpayers. But this time, it's good news.

According to the IRS, the government is trying to find 2,789 taxpayers in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to give them nearly $1 million in tax refunds that they have coming.

One missing Virginian is entitled to a $7,605 tax refund, and one Marylander, $5,739. The biggest local refund in the batch is the $17,400 owed to a District of Columbia business. Some of the refunds, however, are for small amounts of only $1 or $2.

"We sent out the checks, but they came back," said Domenic LaPonzina, a public affairs representative for the IRS. "Then we tried to write to them to tell them they had a refund, but that failed. Now we have compiled a master list and we are asking anybody who is expecting a refund to contact the IRS office in their area."

Altogether, the government is holding $24.1 million for 61,187 U.S. taxpayers who filed returns for 1980 and previous years and are entitled to refunds. That represents a slight decline from last year, when the tax list showed the government with $24.5 million for 76,760 missing taxpayers.

In Maryland and the District of Columbia, 1,345 individuals have unclaimed refunds totaling $445,992, and 270 businesses are due $146,453. Average refunds for those areas are $335 for a person and $354 for a business. In Virginia, 1,033 individuals have $302,358 in unclaimed refunds and 141 businesses, $59,969. Average refunds for Virginia are $293 for a person and $425 for a business.

LaPonzina said the unclaimed refunds represent only a fraction of 1 percent of the refunds made. In the Maryland-District of Columbia division, for example, the government refunded $1.12 billion to 1.5 million taxpayers this year, he said. Unclaimed refunds for that division amount to $592,445 for 1,615 taxpayers.

"The person may have moved and forgotten to leave a forwarding address with the Post Office," LaPonzina said. "Or they left an address and the Post Office didn't forward it for some reason. Or the person married, changed their name and address and forgot they had a refund coming. Or they died and no one has come forth to claim the refund."

When a taxpayer can't be found immediately, the money remains in the Treasury. Next year, if the person files a tax return, perhaps from a new address, the IRS computer, if all is working correctly, will flag the account so that the man or woman gets his old refund or credit for his refund at his new address.

The government doesn't pay interest on unclaimed refunds. Nor does it impose a deadline on paying out refunds. The taxpayer can collect it at any time, after proving that he has a refund coming.

To collect an unclaimed tax refund, the individual or business must provide IRS with the name that appeared on the tax return, the Social Security number, the address shown on the return at the time it was filed and the amount of the refund expected. After clearing those hurdles, they will be eligible for a release form and then a new tax refund check.