Federal workers would get a retirement plan very much like some of the best in the private sector under a draft pension bill drawn up by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

The bill provides some features not now available to federal and postal workers -- such as tax-sheltered savings plans and 100 percent employer-paid retirement contributions.

It also provides some of the drawbacks common to many of the best private retirement plans, such as the requirement that employes work until age 62 and then get basic benefits figured under a less generous formula than the one currently used by Uncle Sam for his own workers.

The beauty of Stevens' bill -- like several other substitute retirement plans floating around -- is that it is not mandatory for anyone hired before Jan. 1, 1984. Long-time employes, who are horrified at the prospect of a higher retirement age, wouldn't have to go into it. They could stay in the current civil service pension program, which is generous but subject to congressional tinkering, or elect to come into the new system.

Stevens' bill is important for a couple of reasons. One, because he is the Senate's expert on federal retirement and like a majority of the Senate's members he is a Republican. Two, Congress has to do something about a new retirement system and time is running out.

By the end of the year Congress must set up a new retirement program for the 300,000 feds who have come on the payroll since January 1984. Those employes are now under both civil service and Social Security. They pay only a token portion of the 7 percent civil service retirement contribution but do pay the full 7.05 percent Social Security tax.

Unless Congress has a new retirement plan in place by Dec. 31, those new hires will wake up in January to find that they are fully covered by both the current civil service retirement program and Social Security. They will be reminded of the double coverage every payday when slightly more than 14 percent is deducted from their checks.

Stevens proposed a new retirement plan last year, but withdrew it because of the deafening silence from federal unions. Now he thinks he has two things on his side: a better plan and time.

Under Stevens' plan the government would match -- dollar for dollar -- employe contributions to a tax-deferred thrift plan up to 5 percent of salary. In addition, workers could stash another 5 percent on their own that would be tax-deferred. That is 15 percent of their yearly salaries set aside for retirement.

The bill isn't perfect from the viewpoint of current feds. For one thing it would require feds under it to work another seven years, until age 62, for full retirement benefits.

Stevens' bill would be mandatory for feds hired since January 1984. Civil servants hired before then could stay under the present pension system or come into the new plan if they did so before January 1988.

The new plan would base benefits on the employe's highest five-year average salary. Annuities under the current system are based on the high three-year salary average.

Federal and postal unions, which are supposed to look out for their troops, will have lots of suggestions for improving Stevens' bill. They should. What they shouldn't do, because time is running out, is ignore this one and hope for something better.

Stevens is one of the federal workers' best friends in the Senate. He is not the most patient man in the Senate. If this plan is ignored he may turn the baton over to somebody whose idea of retirement is to let you work until you drop.