Federal agencies contemplating RIFs would have to consider the Detroit option before they began firing people under legislation that will be introduced later this month by Rep. Mike Barnes (D-Md.).

Since the Reagan administration took office, more than 8,000 federal workers have been fired for economy reasons, including about 2,900 in the Washington area.

In many instances the people targeted for RIFs -- because their jobs or programs were abolished -- used seniority and veterans preference to bump younger, less senior workers out of government, taking lower-level jobs at their higher rate of pay.

Barnes hopes to require agencies to consider alternatives to RIFs, and bring workers and unions into the bargaining process when layoffs loom. His bill will be outlined at a special news conference June 24. Meantime, here is a sneak preview of some of its features:

* Agencies would be required to contact employe bargaining representatives whenever they were considering RIFs either for reasons of economy or reorganization.

* Agencies would have to consider suggestions from unions and employes for ways to save money without firing people.

* Both sides would present a list of alternatives to a RIF, including such things as voluntary furloughs or limited early retirement. If the RIF still happened, however, the RIFfing agency would have an obligation to help qualified employes find comparable jobs in sister agencies.

* If labor and management could not reach agreement, the issue would be presented to the Federal Service Impasses Panel. It would decide if the RIF was to be held, or if alternate procedures should be used to accomplish the same savings. The decision of the FSIP would be binding on both parties.

The Barnes bill has a good chance of passage in this election year because so many people -- government employes and their clients -- are concerned about the effect of RIFs on their lives.

Bringing unions and workers into the negotiating process could be popular with members of Congress anxious to ferret out waste in government. As one congressional aide said, "Nobody has got a hatful of ideas about how to cut costs like a union" whose members face the loss of their jobs.

Such Detroit-style negotiations so far have worked well between the United Auto Workers and major car companies, where mutually agreeable economy ideas have saved thousands of workers from layoffs.