Getting an "outstanding" rating, once the federal equivalent of giving grown-ups a gold star for being quiet at story time or eating the okra at dinner, is a big deal these days.

Outstanding ratings have become the bureaucracy's bulletproof vest. They help determine who stays and who goes when agencies begin firing people.

In these times of RIFs (layoffs), federal workers who can wangle an "outstanding" rating from the boss get four years of seniority credit. It makes them less vulnerable when the pink slips start flying.

Many agencies, facing layoffs in the weeks and months ahead, have moved up regularly scheduled evaluation periods.

Workers who once paid little attention to getting an "outstanding" commendation pinned to their personnel folder are no longer satisfied with a "satisfactory" grade from the boss. About 94 percent of all workers get satisfactory marks each year. Only about five out of every 100 employes get an outstanding rating.

Because of the new appreciation of outstanding ratings, many workers-- and federal unions -- are taking an interest in how those awards are made, who makes them and who gets them. There have been complaints that some of the least outstanding people in the office have been singled out for the awards because they play golf with the boss.

There are bosses who claim that subordinates who they long assumed had no teeth, are now all smiles and ever-anxious to please just before report card time.

Washington area members of Congress are getting calls, files, facts, figures and speculation from federal constituents who allege that something is rotten in the rating process this year.

Al Louis Ripskis, self-appointed gadfly who has made life interesting and at times uncomfortable for a succession of Housing and Urban Development officials, has taken on the cause of the outstanding at his department.

Ripskis, who edits his IMPACT Journal (whose study a couple of years ago launched a U.S. crackdown on sexual harrassment), says that HUD officials supplied him with a list of outstanding rating awards. But he says they cut out the names of winners, on the grounds that it is a violation of the privacy act.

Ripskis says he would not publish the names of winners, that he only wants to determine if there have been a rash of awards, perhaps to protect certain people. HUD officials say the number of people getting the awards is in line with previous years.

Several employe union locals are preparing or have made similar requests for information on how many people -- and who they are -- have received outstanding awards. Some have bootleg copies of awards lists which they have passed on to friends on Capitol Hill, and the issue of how the awards are being made may be taken up in hearings in the next few weeks.

League of Federal Recreation Associations will have its annual conference March 6 at the Sheraton-Washington here. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will be the keynote speaker. Hoyer, a member of the Post Office/Civil Service Committee, will talk about the legislative outlook for federal pay, insurance and employment. Call 554-6910 for registration information.

Mandatory Open Season: The government would be required to hold an open enrollment period every year under legislation introduced by Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.). Dicks said Office of Personnel Management's cancellation of the open season due last November is "unconscionable."

If his bill is approved, the government would have to hold a regular open season annually so people can shop for new insurance coverage.

National Treasury Employes Union has joined the new Labor Council of the Democratic National Committee. It was set up to rebuild and repair the party's alliances with organized labor. NTEU was one of the first, if not the first, federal union to endorse a presidential hopeful in the 1980 race. It picked Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.).