Career federal executives concerned about their scalps--regardless of who wins the presidency-- have been given some additional safety net protection by congress.

Just before it adjourned, Congress approved legislation that gives members of the Senior Executive Service the right to either fall back to non-SES level jobs, or to take early retirement if their jobs are abolished because of a reduction in force. Previously, SES members were not automatically entitled to retire early (at age 50 with 20 years service, or at any age after 25 years federal service) on immediate annuity because of RIFs.

During the first three years of the Reagan administration, fewer than 100 of the 6,000 career SES employes were RIFfed and refused a replacement job out of town. Now, they may refuse an out-of-town assignment and take early retirement. Offering an executive an out-of-town assignment he or she was certain to refuse has been one method of forcing them out of government.

The new job guarantees, endorsed by the White House, give first-time early retirement rights to RIFfed executives. Previously, they could only move down to lower grade jobs or take deferred retirement benefits if they were fired because of reorganization.

Most of the 6,000 career SES employes -- whose salaries in January will range from $61,196 to $72,300 -- can be moved around by their political bosses.

Many executives anticipate major top-level job shakeups whether Reagan or Walter Mondale is elected. They expect that a Mondale administration would want to put its own stamp on the career civil service, and that many careerists would be moved around even if Reagan is reelected because many of his top political appointees will not stay for a second term.

Dave Burckman, president of the Senior Executive Association, which represents many of the career executives, said that the personnel director of every major department has been replaced -- either through reassignment or because they quit or retired -- during the first Reagan term.