The budget plan tentatively approved by Democratic congressional leaders takes it easy on federal workers, thanks to some creative accounting concepts, even as it calls for $5.2 billion in pay and benefit cuts during the next three years.

After a lengthy deadlock, budget conferees next week expect to send a compromise spending outline proposal to the Senate and House floors. Even if vetoed by the president, the budget shows that Congress intends for U.S. workers and retirees to get raises, and isn't interested in taking away the option that allows retirees to get lump-sum payments for the money they contributed to their own pension program.

What the budget does is assume savings by using the so-called cost-avoidance approach: Congress assumes that certain amounts will be spent on certain programs in the future, then reduces the amounts of the expected expenditure and calls it a cut.

In the case of federal pay raises, the conferees looked at Congressional Budget Office assumptions of what federal workers would, could or might get during the next three years based on current economic projections. The data indicated a 3 percent federal pay raise next year, a 4.8 percent raise in 1989 and a 5.2 percent raise in 1990.

Using those assumptions, the conferees said that considerable money could be saved if the raises were limited to 3 percent in each of the next three years, if federal agencies were required to absorb all (rather than half) the costs of each raise, and if the raises were delayed until January (which has become standard procedure) rather than paid in October, the start of the fiscal year. Such actions, conferees figure, will accomplish a major chunk of the multibillion-dollar savings assigned to civil service programs with the minimum of pain.

"What they {the budget conferees} did in effect was say, 'We are not going to spend as much money as we might otherwise have spent,' and call it a savings," a grateful federal union official said yesterday. "If we did our checkbooks that way we would be in trouble, but this is Congress . . . . "

Despite the smoke-and- mirrors appearance of the complex budget process, insiders say there is some slight danger that federal pay, pension programs and even jobs could be pared over the next few years if the budget isn't approved by Congress and the White House, or if Congress decides to make specific cuts in individual programs later. Retirement Questions

The changeover to a new pension system has raised many questions with retirees and workers. Will the old pension plan remain solvent? Who pays for the new lower-cost pension plan? Should retirees provide a survivor benefit for a spouse, or take the money that it would cost and invest it in a private annuity plan? If you have questions about the old or new pension plans, tune into radio station WNTR-AM (1050) at 1 p.m. tomorrow. The expert guest is Edwin Hustead, one-time chief actuary of the federal retirement program and now senior vice president of Hay-Huggins Inc. Hustead will answer call-in questions about the old and new pension plans.

Job Mart

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Interior's Office of the Secretary needs a GS 7/9 security specialist. Call 343-4821.

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