Thousands of top government executives, members of Congress and cabinet and military officers would be in line for pay raises if the White House gives a blue-ribbon panel its marching papers.

Any increase for that group also would mean raises for more than 20,000 career civil servants and upper-level military personnel. Pay for senior civil servants is now capped at $69,600; members of Congress get $72,200.

Salaries for executives and other higher-ups already are scheduled to increase by 3 1/2 percent in January, when a pay raise for rank-and-file U.S. workers goes into effect.

Timing, and White House interest, are the keys to an even larger pay raise for the executives. Every four years the federal government brings in experts from industry and academia to consider pay raises for top career officials. The Quadrennial Commission was set up by Congress so that its pay proposals could be sent to Congress in nonelection years.

The commission last met in 1980. It recommended that top elected and appointed officials get 40 percent pay raises, setting off a predictable reaction among newspaper editorial writers.

Aware that such an increase was politically impossible, President Carter recommended a 16.8 percent executive pay raise as part of his last budget request to Congress.

At first, the incoming Reagan administration endorsed the pay increases. But it later decided they were incompatible with its plans to cut federal spending, and got Congress to kill the raise proposal.

During this administration, salaries for most government executives have gone up by the same percentage as rank-and-file civil servants.

The pay commission has nine members, picked every four years by the Senate, the Supreme Court, the House, and the White House, which also names the chairman. This round, only the White House appointees remain to be chosen.

Earlier this week White House counselor Edwin Meese III told a seminar of the Senior Executives Association that he expected that Nicholas F. Brady would be named to head the group. Brady, the president of Purolator Inc., served eight months in the Senate, filling the unexpired term of New Jersey's Harrison Williams, who resigned after being convicted on bribery charges.

Technically, the commission need not report until late in 1985. But the White House could speed things up and have a proposal ready for inclusion in the next budget President Reagan will send Congress.

If the recommendation is delayed until middle or late 1985, that would put it in the budget that goes to Congress in 1986. That is a congressional election year, so chances are anything but a meager raise would be rejected. Members of Congress are loath to vote themselves and other federal executives pay raises just before they face the voters.

Any pay signal from the White House should come within the next couple of weeks.