The nation's 2.8 million civil servants will do double duty Tuesday. As citizens they will help elect a president; as workers they will be picking their boss.

Last week the Democratic and Republican parties made a pitch for understanding -- and votes -- from the federal establishment.

Edwin Meese III, a top aide to President Reagan, met with the Senior Executives Association. His talked about plans for the civil service and sought to soothe executives who think this administration has been too hard on civil servants.

Ira Shapiro, on leave from the Senate as deputy issues adviser to Walter F. Mondale, spoke with The Washington Post about the civil service under a Mondale presidency.

Both men noted that Congress plans to design a new retirement system next year for recently hired federal workers who are under Social Security. Neither gave specific hints as to what that new system could mean to longtime federal workers' benefits.

Shapiro said the Reagan administration has mounted a "continuous assault on wages, benefits and the federal retirement program." Although Mondale has no U.S. pension plan, he said, "the real question is attitude. When reforms are studied you come at it from one perspective if you think the program is valuable. If you think it should be abolished or made unattractive you come at it from another perspective."

In his speech, Meese stressed that the administration would improve communications with senior career employes. He said that Craig Fuller, an assistant to the president, would be put in charge of running regular Cabinet-level meetings between career professionals and political appointees.

Meese said the administration wants a senior civil service "somewhat on the pattern of the British civil service" with clearly defined "policy-neutral senior executives who, no matter what administration is in power, are there to provide the advice and institutional memory . . . of government."

Meese had a pat on the back for Edward Preston, a longtime official with the IRS and Office of Management and Budget, "as the kind of man who exemplifies that senior civil service and career executive." He said that Preston, the godfather of civil service matters for several presidents, had been "persuaded not to retire . . . and we hope we can persuade him to stay . . . for many years to come so we can have the benefit of his help in developing communications and executive development programs that I think will become even more important in the future."

Democrat Shapiro said the big difference between Reagan and Mondale is the "way they come at government . . . . The president is quite honest about it . . . that he feels government is the enemy and when he looks at the federal bureaucracy, the size of it and cost of it . . . his feeling is to strike it down."

Both men agreed that there has been growing tension since the 1960s between the White House and the federal work force. Meese blamed the news media in part for playing up bad news and paying little attention to such events as Reagan handing out cash awards to top civil servants.

Shapiro said it "may be that Washington and the civil service will never be entirely happy" with any president. But he said a Mondale administration could bring morale "back to the level of the 1960s when government service was considered a higher calling."

Enjoy these next few days. It may be four years before you -- as civil servants -- are courted again!