Major changes in federal layoff rules, which would devalue seniority and give greater protection to top performers, may have been put on hold at the Office of Management and Budget because of complaints from Washington area Republican lawmakers.

The proposed reduction in force (RIF) rules change--reported here Jan. 17--would establish a new pecking order during RIFs. They are awaiting clearance by OMB and the White House.

Metropolitan Washington has had RIF jitters since President Reagan took office. In the past two years more than 9,000 federal workers, about one-third of them here, have been RIFfed for economy reasons. The number of civil servants here (now 342,000) has dropped by about 20,000 during the period.

While the number of RIFs is relatively small against the size of the federal establishment (about 2.8 million people), the firings, job bumpings and downgradings accompanying them stunned the federal establishment here, which is not accustomed to layoffs.

Under pressure from groups who complained that the weight given seniority worked against women and minorities, the Office of Personnel Management drafted new RIF guidelines.

They would require agencies facing RIF to consider employes in groups (by performance rating and then seniority) in deciding who is fired and who is kept on the payroll.

Under the proposal, first candidates for RIFs would come from employes in groups with the lowest performance rating. The least senior employes within that group would be RIFfed first. No change would be made in veterans' preference rules.

Currently veterans and long-service employes get greatest job security during RIFs. Their jobs may be abolished, but in many instances they can "bump" less senior colleagues or nonveterans out of their jobs. Workers with "outstanding" performance ratings get credit for four extra years of seniority during RIFs. Otherwise, performance now counts for little.

Five Washington area legislators sent a letter to OMB Chief David Stockman on Monday. It said the proposed deemphasis on seniority was counter to practices in industry "and are inconsistent with the principles of the Republican Party and this administration, and should not be implemented."

The letter was signed by Virginia House members Frank Wolf and Stan Parris, Virginia Sens. John Warner and Paul Trible and Rep. Marjorie Holt of Maryland.

Wolf, who said 40 percent of his constitutents are federal workers, called Stockman's office yesterday and spoke with aide Chris DeMuth. Wolf said the GOP delegation wants the RIF changes scrubbed. If OMB won't do that, he said, the group wants to meet with President Reagan to plead the case for seniority.

Wolf said it is his understanding that the rules change has been put on hold. OMB sources said that Wolf did indeed speak to DeMuth but that he is the only one that can comment on the situation. DeMuth was unavailable for comment yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, Donald Devine, who heads the OPM, said he knew of no hold on the proposed rules change drafted by his agency. He said he supports the changes. "The law (U.S. Code Sec. 2301, Sec. 5) says that employes should be retained on the adequacy of performance" and that poor performers "should be separated" first in RIFs.