The hottest rumor on the federal beat is that Ralph C. Bledsoe, White House honcho for administration and management, may be nominated to be director of the Office of Personnel Management. The rumor has Donald J. Devine -- whose reconfirmation is in limbo -- being offered another top administration post. It should be noted that rumors of Devine's imminent departure from OPM have popped up regularly almost since he took the job.

Devine's four-year term expired several weeks ago. He was renominated, but encountered stiff opposition from Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and from unions.

The committee is waiting for the return of Devine's chief critic, Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), who is recovering from a heart attack, before it votes on Devine. If any of the committee's seven Republicans (one of them is Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias) votes with the six Democrats, Devine's nomination will still go to the Senate floor, but without favorable recommendation.

When the Bledsoe-for-Devine rumor surfaced last week, Bledsoe's office said there was nothing to it. This week, however, his office is saying "no comment." That kind of subtle language change may mean nothing. But in Washington, where people read political tea leaves very closely, it could also mean something.