Many of the 35,000 government workers who get special pay rates because of what they do or where they do it will be limited to the same 4 percent raises this year as other white-collar civil servants.

Some of the so-called special rate people, however, will get increases of up to 10 percent, while others will not even get the general 4 percent raise.

The decision depends on what Uncle Sam thinks he has to pay to recruit and retain certain kinds of engineers, medical personnel and other specialists. Tomorrow or early next week, most agencies will get formal notification of just how "special" Uncle Sam wants the special rates to be.

A large portion of the folks in the special-pay category are GS 5 through 11 civil and mechanical engineers. Office of Personnel Management says they will get a 4 percent raise. That puts the starting rate for a Grade 5 engineer, for example, at $17,383, compared with a starting salary of $13,369 for a regular GS 5 employe.

However, two engineering categories -- mining and petroleum -- receive different treatment. Mining engineers receive no pay increase this year. Petroleum engineers in Grades 5 through 9 will get 4 percent. Those in Grades 11 through 14 get no raise.

The pay picture is also different for medical officers. Clinical medical officers (doctors in hospitals, clinics and involved in direct patient care) will get a 7 percent pay raise at Grades 14 and 15. Other grades will get 4 percent. Nonclinical medical officers (who review grants and who are involved in administrative duties) will not get a raise this year.

About 9,000 clerical workers in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago -- who are paid special rates -- will not get any increase this year.

Medical technologists in metropolitan Washington in Grade 5 will get the 4 percent general pay increase, but therapeutic radiologic technologists here will not receive a pay increase.

Therapeutic radiologic technologists in New York City, however, will get a 7 percent pay raise.

Heart-and-lung-machine technicians in Michigan will get a 7 percent raise in Grades 7 and 8, and a 10 percent increase if they are in Grade 9.

Many of the special rate people who are getting no increase or only 4 percent are angry. They feel the government hired them at special higher rates and promised to treat them better.

Patent Office examiners (who are engineers) say they have been told they will not be getting even the regular 4 percent raise.

OPM says that each of the 131 special rate groups (some occupational, some geographic, some both) are reviewed at least once a year. This year, OPM says, all but 51 of the special rate groups either got the regular 4 percent raise, or more.

The criteria for determining special rate pay, an OPM official explained, is based on difficulty of recruiting and retaining people -- not necessarily what rates industry is paying for the same job. "There must be a significant staffing problem, either recruiting or retention" to justify a special rate. If there is no staffing problem, OPM says, "it doesn't matter what the competition is paying."