The Reagan Administration is preparing to issue new Reduction In Force (RIF) rules that will deemphasize seniority and give extra protection to top performers during layoffs.

Since President Reagan took office, about 3,000 of the area's 342,000 federal workers have been fired for economy reasons. Many more were demoted or downgraded as a result of RIFs.

Under current RIF regulations the general rule is last-hired-first-fired.

In RIF situations, which have been rare in government until recently, disabled veterans, persons with veterans' preference or those with most time in government are least likely to be RIFfed onto the street.

Less senior workers who are not veterans are usually the people bumped from their jobs or actually fired.

New rules, awaiting White House clearance, establish a very different RIF pecking order. In effect they reverse the present system that gives seniority more weight than job performance.

Currently, performance does count to a certain extent by giving some workers the equivalent of more seniority in their agency or competitive job area when a RIF is taking place.

Employes with outstanding ratings get an extra four years of seniority credit during a RIF and those with ratings of better-than-satisfactory or equivalent get an extra two years of seniority.

This is how the new system would work:

Agencies hit by RIFs would divide employes into categories based on their current or most recent job evaluation.

For example, feds with the poorest job ratings would be first targets for RIFs.

Their standing within their group would then be determined by veterans' preference and seniority.

The next group to be considered for RIFs would be those with satisfactory ratings.

Persons in that group with veterans status and/or the most seniority would be retained before persons with less seniority or who were not veterans.

The same selection/retention process would then be applied to those with better-than-satisfactory performance ratings.

The last group that would be considered for RIFs would be those persons with "outstanding" or the top job rating.

In addition to the above-mentioned changes, the new RIF rules would limit the number of times that an employe with top standing (based on seniority, service or job ratings) could bump another worker from a job.

In many cases employes whose jobs are abolished by RIFs can and do "bump" down into the system, displacing anywhere from 5 to 15 workers with less standing.

The new RIF rules were drafted at the Office of Personnel Management in response to complaints from workers, unions and members of Congress about the present system, which they claim discriminates against women (because of veterans' preference) and the young and minorities (because they often have less seniority).

Although the changes will make some people happy, they will probably come under fire because government workers--understandably--do not like RIFs. Period.