After years of resisting, the federal government has finally agreed to give about $32 million in back payments to more than 5,000 present and former members of the Senior Executive Service. Most of the officials of the elite civil service corp to whom the money is due live in the Washington area.

The payments, ranging from $1,000 to about $5,200, represent portions of pay raises the executives were denied, because of congressional pay caps, in 1981 and 1982. It could be as long as six months before the lump-sum payments are made.

The Supreme Court -- as reported here April 16 -- settled the long-running fight over the payments when it refused a government request to review a lower court order that the executives should get the money.

The Office of Personnel Management made it official this week by ordering agencies to begin the time-consuming process of figuring out who is entitled to the money and how much each eligible person will get. The award covers employes in SES pay levels three through six. Salaries for those SES members, which range from $66,232 to $72,300, will not be increased.

OPM says it could be months before the lump-sum payments are made. Some of the eligible workers have retired or have died. In the case of some retirees, annuities will be increased slightly because of the adjustments.

If you are one of the SES people involved, OPM officials say: Don't call them, they will be in touch with you.