Last year was a tough one for federal workers and retirees, but it could have been worse. Here's a review of some of the highlights -- or lowlights -- from this column from January to June, and the aftermaths. Tomorrow: what did and didn't happen from July through December:

*Jan. 4: Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman William V. Roth (R-Del.) says he will oppose any federal pay cut this year. Congress eventually rejected the White House pay cut plan, but it eliminated the raise scheduled for 1986.

*Jan. 16: "President Reagan's budget will include proposals to cut federal pay 5 percent; raise the federal retirement age to 65; change the formula the government uses to compute pensions of employes, and limit cost-of-living raises for retirees." The only proposal that stuck was the plan to freeze retiree raises for 1986.

*Feb. 21: "The Senate could vote as early as midsummer on a new retirement plan for federal workers hired since January 1984. Under the proposal, employes would get a modified civil service benefit, Social Security coverage and the option to join a tax-deferred thrift plan." The Senate approved such a plan in December.

*March 31: "Senate hearings on the confirmation of Donald J. Devine for a second term as director of the Office of Personnel Management may not be as short -- or as comfortable -- as his aides had hoped." Devine's term of office expired before he could be reconfirmed. Devine later withdrew his nomination when it became clear the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee would not vote to confirm him.

*April 28: "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." Despite that pleasant report, the SES back pay issue got bogged down in court several times. The payments have been approved and should be mailed out early this year.

*May 9: "In an effort to cut Uncle Sam's multimillion-dollar telephone bill, federal agencies this week began electronically blocking 145,000 of the 230,000 phones in government offices here to make it impossible for workers to dial time, weather or other prerecorded messages such as Dial-a-Joke."

*May 17: "Because participants in the nation's largest company health plan, the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, are using it less and paying a bigger share of their medical bills, the giant health program now has a reserve of $1.9 billion, federal administrators report." Shortly thereafter, the Blue Cross-Blue Shield health insurance plan announced it would offer rebates of $18 to more than $400 to 1985 policyholders. Shortly afterward, seven other health plans announced they would make refunds. The refunds were finally approved by Congress in December.

*June 21: "The FBI is running a check on 41,000 employes who work in computer and benefit payment programs at the Department of Health and Human Services to determine if they have ever been convicted of felonies." HHS officials said the checks, still in progress, were necessary to help spot potential fraud, but other agencies have declined to follow suit.

*June 30: "One portion of President Reagan's tax reform proposal would eliminate a major benefit -- the tax-free period immediately following retirement -- now enjoyed by federal and postal workers and others who contribute to their own retirement plans." That "little-noticed" reform was eventually passed by the House in its tax reform bill. It is still pending before the Senate.