Most of the government's 28,000 Grade 15 workers will be getting pay raises ranging from $761 to $5,615 a year whether they are under the regular civil service pay system or are "merit pay" managers and supervisors whose salaries are tied to job performance.

Many workers under merit pay feared the raises approved earlier this week by Congress would bypass them because they are under a pay-for-performance system that is new and unique to the federal establishment. However, the Office of Personnel Management says the $63,800 career-salary ceiling will be applied to all civil service jobs previously limited to $57,500. (I ruined a lot of people's breakfasts yesterday by listing a lesser increase for that group of feds.)

The vast majority of the Grade 15 people--senior administrators, investigators, accountants, public affairs officers, economists and other professionals, are based in the Washington area.

Some of them are general schedule (GS) workers who get the same percentage pay raise each October as rank-and-file civil servants. This October that adjustment was 4 percent. But more of them are under the new merit pay (GM for government manager) system. They get only half of the regular percentage pay raise each October, unless their bosses approve more for them, based on their job-performance ratings.

Congress also raised the maximum pay limits for other federal workers, from members of the House to federal judges, cabinet-level political appointees and members of the Senior Executive Service.

The raises, retroactive to Dec. 17, bring House members up to $69,800 (up from $60,662.50). The top SES salary (formerly $58,500) goes to $67,200.

Pay for federal judges goes up 4 percent, the same percentage increase as the earlier raise for most rank-and-file civil servants. That puts the chief justice at $100,700; associate justices at $96,700; circuit judges at $77,300 and district court judges to $73,100.

Until the cap was lifted, most Grade 15 and 16 employes, and all Grade 17 and 18 workers were all lumped together with the same $57,500 salary.

With the increase in the ceiling, Grade 15 employes in step seven go to $58,261; step eight to $59,879; step nine to $61,497, and the top step to $63,115.

Grade 16 employes in the first step get no raise, but those in steps two through four go to $58,843; $60,741 and $62,639 respectively. Steps five through nine will all be paid the maximum $63,800.

News that the new pay ceiling also affects workers under merit pay should come as a pleasant surprise to the group that feels it has been shafted over the past two years by a system implemented during the Carter administration.

Thousands of employes in Grades 13, 14 and 15 who were designated as either managers or supervisors, were drafted into the merit pay system and given GM (rather than GS) designations.

They gave up regular length-of-service raises that other federal workers got automatically, in return for the chance to get higher pay raises each October, based on performance. But many of the merit pay people claim that the actual payouts have been less than people in their same grade who are outside the "merit" system have received the last two years.

The new salary ceiling for members of the SES, the elite corps of about 8,000 career and political executives, has been raised to $67,200 for those at level six; $65,600 for level five; $63,800 for those at level four; $61,515 for level three; $59,230 for those at level two and $56,945 for level one.

The majority of the SES people are at level four ($63,800). But because of the pay changes, those at the bottom rung of the SES in level one will now get less than many of the "supergraders" whom they supervise.