A funny thing happened yesterday at a news conference called by the Office of Personnel Management to announce "a major career change" for Director Donald J. Devine: The funny thing was that not much happened.

The room was full of reporters--pencil and electronic variety--who heeded OPM's call that something really big was to transpire. That, as it turns out, was a matter of opinion.

There has been media speculation for weeks that Devine would be leaving OPM because his policies have alienated federal workers and retirees, most of whom are old enough to vote next year.

Devine made note of the resignation rumors and then told reporters: "I am afraid I must disappoint you all." When he said that, half the people in the room--the half who work for OPM--burst into applause.

Reporters burst into something else.

Not that they give a hoot whether Devine goes, stays or becomes Prime Minister of Iceland. They were giving each other a "why-are-we-here?" look. One TV newsman, normally the calmest of souls, burst into language that would not have pleased his parents.

He told his cameraman to "pop the tape." That is TV news talk for eject, bail out, lets-lead-with-a-weather-story on the nightly news. It was a pop-the-tape kind of event.

Devine said he is staying "at least through the election" to finish reforms of federal work rules and the pay and pension systems. His proposed reforms have scared the life out of many feds and retirees. Several unions and professional groups have demanded his resignation. A recent poll by the Federal Times newspaper showed that its readers, by a 16-1 margin, would like to see Devine leave OPM.

Be that as it may, Devine said he talks to more federal workers and retirees than anybody else, and that many of them support his proposals.

With Devine at the news conference was David Denholm. He is president of the Public Service Research Council. Denholm described the organization as a "citizens' lobby" that, for the past 10 years, has monitored "the influence of unions" in the government's decision-making process.

Denholm was there because he had brought along 11,000 form fan letters to Devine from PSRC members. The letters--mailed to 150,000 members with the last newsletter--had prepaid envelopes so that persons voting would not have to buy a stamp.

The "ballots" said: "Dr. Devine: I appreciate what you are doing to promote efficiency in government and control government spending by reforming the civil service system. Please don't let pressure from a handful of powerful union officials and their friends in Congress discourage you in this important work."

After the news conference, an OPM official called to say that the meeting was not set up to embarrass reporters but rather to set them straight.

"Look," he said, "some people on The Hill Congress and at the OMB Office of Management and Budget have been putting out the word that Don is a dead duck. They were saying he wouldn't be around . . . that the administration doesn't care about the reforms and that members wouldn't lose anything by voting against those changes.

"It simply isn't true. This resignation stuff is 100 percent b.s. What would you do? We were getting calls from members of Congress asking if Devine is going. We had to get the word out once and for all that he is not. That is why we called the press conference."

He said that after the news conference, Devine attended a Cabinet meeting and "got reassurances from the president and Ed Meese" that they support him. "They are happy as a lark with him Devine ," he said. "They are getting a charge out of this" resignation talk.

It is nice to know somebody is.