There is a small cloud on the horizon for the government's 3 million retired federal, postal and military personnel who are anticipating a minimum 8.1 percent cost-of-living raise next March. The COL adjustment is designed to give retirees an inflation catchup for the rise in living costs as measured by the Consumer Price Index for 1981.

The cloud is a pending Senate bill (S. 1667) by Steven Symms (R-Idaho) and Mack Mattingly (R-Ga.) that would defer the March increase until September of 1982. Last year Congress wiped out the September raise due retirees, but promised them a full 12-month COL catchup in March.

Symms and Mattingly also are sponsoring legislation that would limit retiree raises to 85 percent of the Consumer Price Index.

Although the plan to delay the March 1982 raise until September is unlikely to pass -- the retiree lobby is strong and 1982 is an election year -- there is a good chance Congress may decide to go along with some kind of plan to deny retirees full inflation catchups as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

Fred H. Hundemer, director of the policy division, is retiring from the Office of Education. He spent 39 years with Uncle Sam, starting out at the Veterans Administration and working at National Science Foundation before joining the old Department of Health, Education and Welfare.