Although many federal workers think the government isn't the safe, fun, exciting place it used to be, outsiders are trying--in near-record numbers--to climb aboard the ship of state.

Last year, Uncle Sam's largest agency, the U.S. Postal Service, tested twice as many job applicants(1,235,383) as it has jobs.

USPS brass say that many more people applied for work or expressed interest in becoming a clerk or letter carrier (starting salary $19,663), but that "only" 1.2 million of them showed up for and took tests.

The USPS, with around 600,000 workers, has been spared layoffs and furloughs that are haunting other federal agencies thanks to no-layoff agreements between the USPS and its strong unions. Most hiring is to replace people who quit or retire.

Every so often, postal officials in different cities advertise job openings, being careful to point out that applicants must take tests, pass them and then sometimes wait a year or more in the hope they will be called from job registers. Even so, testing facilities are swamped when the word goes out that the post office is hiring. Examples:

* Last year, the Washington office advertised a handful of upcoming clerk/carrier and mailhandler ($19,090 starting salary) openings. Nearly 35,000 applied.

* When the post office in Miami said it had some openings coming up, 150,000 applied.

* Denver handed out 28,000 applications between Jan. 4 and 8 when it announced job tests.

* Kansas City stockpiled 10,000 application forms for its Feb. 8 opening announcement. They were gone in two hours and another 8,000 were handed out between the 8th and 12th of February.

* The number of postal job applicants in New York City during a recent job opening was larger than the entire population of Alaska.

All of which proves a couple of things. One: there are lots of people anxious to work for the government. Two: President Reagan was off base a little when he said people aren't answering Help Wanted ads. The real problem is that there are more job-hunters than there are jobs.