The traditional reluctance of politicians who must run for their jobs to grant paycheck parity to unelected bureaucrats and appointees has produced a government pay chart that confuses outsiders and irritates insiders whose salaries, according to the chart, appear to be $300 per week more than they actually make.

When Congress authorized this month's 2 percent raise for most of Uncle Sam's million- plus white-collar civil servants, it capped the salaries of most career federal workers at $72,500 a year. The limited election-year pay freeze (inspired by two congressional raises last year) also applies to House and Senate members whose salaries are more comfortably frozen at $89,500.

But despite the reality of the pay cap, the government continues to print pay charts showing what-might-have-been pay scales with only an asterisk beside some of the biggest numbers to show executives what might have been if they lived in an uncapped world where what you see is what you get.

The asterisk figures cause mental anguish for some higher-up federal workers who see what they feel they should be getting but are not getting. Also, the asterisk can produce domestic discord when a spouse, or former spouse, reads in the newspaper that his or her beloved or ex got a raise and concludes, incorrectly, that the latter is holding out.

This can be a real problem: Years ago the former proprietor of this column -- at the request of a beefy federal employe who was standing over him at the time -- was persuaded to call the employe's wife to explain to her the mysteries of the asterisk and assure her that the pay chart she had seen in the newspaper didn't mean that her husband had neglected to tell her about a big raise.

For example, the pay chart that ran yesterday on the Federal Page (Page A11) shows that the new salary for Grade 18 is $86,682. But because of the all-important asterisk, GS 18 is limited to $72,500. By the same token, the paper salary of the Veterans Administration's chief medical director looks like $97,206, but because of the asterisk it is actually $15,000 less. The same asterisk-versus- reality situation applies to thousands of other workers.

The same thing applies to members of the Senior Executive Service. Because of the cap, only SES members in the first three pay levels got raises, bringing them to $65,994, $68,952 and $71,910, respectively. SES personnel at higher levels got nothing because of the cap. So before you congratulate, or decide to sue, a federal executive friend based on his or her alleged raise, check carefully for an asterisk. People

Internal Revenue Service's Deputy Commissioner James I. Owens has retired after 30 years' federal service. Friends are giving him a sendoff tomorrow evening at the Fort McNair Officers Club. Call Fred Apelquist at 566-3161. Meeting

The American Society for Public Administration is having its annual conference Jan. 12-13 at the Capital Hilton. The subject of the sessions is the election year impact on the career civil service. Representatives of most of the major political candidates will be on hand to give their bosses' views of government, and scheduled speakers include D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Washington Post columnist Haynes Johnson and Ambassador Bruce Laingen. For reservations call 656-1441.