White-collar federal workers would get a 4 percent raise this October, and retired federal, postal and military personnel a 4 percent annuity increase next March under the compromise budget approved by Senate-House conferees last week.

If the budget clears the full House and Senate (as expected) and if President Reagan signs it, the 300,000 white-collar government employes in metro Washington also could expect no more than a 4 percent raise in 1983 and 4 percent in October 1984.

U.S. retirees, 100,000 of them here, who are supposed to get full inflation-catchups could expect no more than a 4 percent annuity increase in March 1984 and again in March 1985.

The 4 percent pay increase would be the smallest for white-collar federal workers since mid-1966, when they got a 2.9 percent raise. Last year government workers got 4.8 percent. Retirees got an 8.7 percent COL raise in March of this year.

Although many federal workers and retirees are unhappy with the 4 percent cap, the situation could have been much worse. Senate conferees wanted to skip the next raises due government employes and retirees. The Senate plan was to freeze federal pay until October 1983, when workers would have gotten a 4 percent raise, and to put a 4 percent cap on retiree adjustments and make the next adjustment in March of 1984.

Despite the 4 percent cap on retired government workers, the budget provides for full COL catchups for people getting Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits. The reason is simple enough: numbers.

The typical Social Security recipient gets less than half the monthly benefit paid to civil service retirees. And although there are nearly 3 million federal retirees or survivors, their number is small compared to the number of Americans -- about 1 in every 6 -- under Social Security.

The budget compromise also provides a $400 million public service subsidy for the U.S. Postal Service.

Other budget changes are either unclear, or must be decided by separate legislation.

Budget watchers say the compromise plan apparently makes major changes in the Federal Employes Compensation Act, but they aren't sure what those changes are. In any event, those changes would require specific legislation.

The budget compromise also recommends that federal workers contribute 1.3 percent of salary for Medicare. (They already pay 7 percent into their own retirement fund.) But again, that change would require special legislation, and the Medicare payment requirement isn't likely to be enacted this year.

Judging from reader reaction, retirees in particularly are unhappy with the 4 percent "cap." But this is real life, and it could have been worse -- worse being no raise this year for federal workers and no raise in 1983 for retirees.

House members of the budget conference committee stuck to their guns and insisted that federal workers and retirees get at least 4 percent for their next adjustment. A handful of House members, Democrats and Republicans and mostly from the Washington area, pleaded, pushed and shoved successfully to keep their federal constituents from coming up empty-handed.

Federal and postal union leaders, lobbyists and individual feds did an excellent job of contacting members of Congress and the budget conference committee. Without their persistent efforts, federal folks -- who are misunderstood and unloved just an hour's drive from Washington -- probably would have been cut out of the pay picture entirely.