Next month the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, one of the agencies that regulate the nation's financial institutions, begins a new pay system. For some of its workers it will mean the start of a five-year pay freeze. For executives it will mean a new annual salary ceiling of $150,000.

Generally speaking, executives, bank examiners and most clerical employees will get raises under the new system. It sets a new pay range for each grade and merit-pay requirements for getting raises. The maximum raise anyone will get in January will be 16 percent, based on the new pay ranges and a performance appraisal.

Most of the 377 people whose pay is being frozen are in administrative, human resources or personnel jobs. Their pay ranges will be adjusted each year. After five years those whose salaries still exceed their new range would take pay cuts. Most of the 439 people who are getting raises are executives and bank examiners. Another large group of workers will find it tougher to get raises under the new system. The agency has 3,300 workers.

Management officials say the change was ordered by Congress, which told the financial regulatory agencies (FDIC, the Federal Reserve, etc.) to develop comparable pay systems. The agencies aren't bound by regular civil service pay scales. Most also give workers geographic cost-of-living differentials.

A consultant did the pay comparison. Officials said it showed the agency was paying administrative employees too much and not paying bank examiners and executives enough.

Spokeswoman Lee Cross said many Washington area workers and field office employees "will either stay the same or be hit by the pay freeze," while field personnel involved in examining banks "will either stay the same or gain" under the new pay system.

Many of those red-lined say this is a device to drive workers from administrative jobs into bank examiner positions in other parts of the country. Others believe this is an example of bosses juggling pay data to justify raises for their own kind. Officials say the study was required by law, was fair and that the agency has gone out of its way by giving employees a five-year no-pay-cut period.

Unhappy workers contend that the comptroller's office disregarded regular civil service job classification procedures and based the reclassification of about 600 occupations by using 100 benchmark jobs.

Some workers are considering grievances or lawsuits. Others have been sending data to Congress. They hope the new pay plan becomes an issue at recently renominated Comptroller Robert L. Clarke's confirmation hearing. Protesting USIA Layoffs

The American Federation of Government Employees will have a rally at noon tomorrow at the U.S. Information Agency headquarters to protest upcoming reductions in force there and at Voice of America.

White-Collar Raises

The 4.1 percent pay raise for white-collar federal workers is official. It will be effective the first pay period beginning on or after Jan. 1. For a look at where you stand in the pay parade, check this space tomorrow.