RIFs like the ones that have pushed nearly 3,000 Washington area feds into unemployment since the Reagan administration took office may be making a return engagement within the next couple of months.

At Housing and Urban Development, which has 3,841 employes here, 184 workers have been notified that they may be hit by a reduction in force because of "staff imbalances" and because HUD has exceeded its personnel ceiling at headquarters.

HUD officials say that, though there is no guarantee that any of the employes will actually go out the door, they felt they had to notify them that it could happen.

Last year HUD issued similar RIF warnings to several hundred people, but officials now say that only 35 at headquarters were actually fired.

Labor Department brass are talking with union officials about possible cutbacks in field positions within the Employment and Training Administration because of the phase-out of the CETA program. Under the worst-case scenerio, more than 500 jobs could be eliminated this year and next.

Workers at the Department of Education say RIF rumors are circulating there, as well as scuttlebutt that Office of Personnel Management Director Donald Devine may be joining them to head the teacher merit pay effort.

Many Defense Department units, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies have made detailed studies that could lead to the contracting out of many jobs, one way around hiring permanent federal employes. Any decision made to contract out might be withheld until after the November 1984 election.

The Federal Government Service Task Force (226-2494) says it is getting lots of calls from federal workers who report RIF rumors popping up in their agencies.

The task force, headed by Rep. Mike Barnes (D-Md.), will release this week a study of RIF actions taken between October 1981 and October 1982. The data shows that throughout the government, 8,000 employes were fired for economic reasons during that period and 17,490 others were transferred or downgraded as a result of the RIFs.