The Federal Protective Service, the agency responsible for law enforcement at government office buildings, wants to have its own jail in Washington.

Federal officers are "somewhat demoralized," according to Quinton Y. Lawson, head of the service, because they have to turn prisoners they arrest over to local police in the District. It's a process that leaves desk sergeants at precinct stations the arresting officers while the Protective Service officer is listed as the "complainant."

"That's not the way the law that established the Federal Protective Service in 1971 intended it to be," said Lawson, whose agency arrests an estimated 200 persons a year for crimes committed in federally owned and leased buildings in Washington. "In Maryland and Virginia and the other states, we can bring our prisoners directly before U.S. magistrates."

FPS is looking for a site for its own facility, a small temporary holding cell and processing center. Lawson has rejected an initial proposal that called for building a $200,000 holding cell and processing center in an old warehouse at the Washington Navy Yard. The facility would consist of three rooms and cover about 300 square feet.

"That was too expensive," Lawson said. "If they can't put it in the Navy Yard for cheaper, they'll have to look elsewhere." Lawson said a report on a new site or a cheaper facility is due April 19, and that a final decision on whether to go ahead with the project will be made on the basis of "the cost of the project compared to our resources."

Jack L. Buch, national director of the operations for the Protective Service, said FPS officers got the ball rolling on the proposed facility last fall when they asked the General Services Administration chief, Gerald P. Carmen, to help improve their status. GSA runs the Protective Service. So far, Carmen has made it a top priority to redraw salary grades and improve benefits.

Lawson said the agency does not intend to increase FPS' "authority or jurisdictional responsibility in the city," but that his officers want to be able to process their own arrests.

At present, D.C. officers transport and "book" individuals apprehended by the federal force because the city regards the Protective Service as a "special, rather than full-service, multijurisdictional police force," according to Vernon S. Gill, general counsel to the Metropolitan Police Department. "If they want to do anything else, they're going to have to get an act of Congress."

But the city's assistant police chief, Marty Tapscott, said, "For their own protection they should have their own holding cell. That wouldn't bother us at all."

Tapscott said that in Washington the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Capitol Police and the Secret Service uniformed division, which patrols the White House, all have their own holding cells and do their own processing before turning prisoners over to the city.