Edward Preston, an official of the Office of Management and Budget, feels that a statement attributed to him in an article in Moday's Post, may be misunderstood. By way of clarification, Preston says that President Carter's commitment to protecting federal employees against layoffs and demotions does extend to internal reorganizations sponsored by members of Carter's cabinet.

"So much is being done to us that it's hard to tell who is doing what to who and for which reason," sighed a midlevel bureaucrat in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, where thousands of employees are facing demotions, transfers, layoffs and other terrors.

Just about everybody has declared open season on their kind, government workers point out, and they are braced for a rain of possible adversities from the Carter administration: various types and sizes of reorganization, government programs of "job reclassification" (which often means demotions) and a spate of proposals to alter pay scales and take away a measure of their job security.

Many of the reorganizations and other actions still are on the drawing board and their ultimate dimensions are unknown. Officials insist that, for at least some workers, current fears may turn out to be more painful than anything that actually happens to them at government hands.

"I don't know where I stand anymore," said Gela Portee, 52, a GS-13 budget analyst at the Commerce Department. She is one of six employees in her eight-person office who have been told they might be demoted.

"You don't spend 21 years giving the best of your service and then not get upset over a thing like that. This kills federal employes off," Portee said. "It's like a slap in the face. You can't ever feel the same about your job again."

"We keep saying around here that things can't get any worse - but things keep getting worse," said Al Ripskis, a GS-13 program analyst at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He vents his frustrations by publishing a feisty newsletter called Impact, which lambastes the bureaucracy every couple of months.

Ripskis' most recent target is the new HUD reorganization gearing up to replace the reorganization that had commenced under the preceding administration. He notes that this is the 20th reorganization there since 1969.

"The gloom is so thick you can almost see it, and people are walking around like zombies," Ripskis said.

Such talk is easy to hear these days at most federal agencies, although people generally do not want to be quoted by name on such a topic.

Despite President Carter's attempts to exorcise them, frustration, fear and rumor continue to prowl the corridors of his bureaucracy, driving the morale of the work force to what some old-timers are calling an all-time low.

The antigovernment crosstides, which threaten federal workers' self-esteem and job security, have swept in from several sources - from the public, in polls; from the press, in headlines about overpaid and under-worked or incompetent government workers who "can't be fired," and from Jimmy Carter, a reform-minded president whose administration has vowed to nail to the wall this floundering jelly of a bureaucracy.

Some of the antigovernment feeling comes from the federal workers themselves, they note pointedly, because they are the ones who deal daily with the same infamous problems that have prompted the moves toward reform in the bureaucracy. "It's a snake trying to bite its own other end," a frustrated State Department employee said.

Another factor is that the government operates on its own employes the same way it operates generally - very slowly. "They're giving us too much time to think about things before they happen," the bureaucrat added.

Some employes say, also that the malaise reflects the disappointment their coworkers feel about the new Democratic administration, which promised a spirit of humanism and reform.

"It's the same old thing," said a GS-13 in the Commerce Department. "The man in charge saying we will do things in a humane way, and the people who are really in control saying, 'we're going to go ahead and do it our way.'"

Some union leaders feel that federal managers here and there are using reorganization as "an opportunity to shove it to the people they didn't get along with," as Greg Kenefick, a spokesman for the American Federation of Government Employees, put it.

Two philosophies operate during a personnel upheaval, according to a GS-15 social planner at HEW. "You can either put your energy into showing what a good job you can do, or you try to show how much you're being hurt. I think you do better with the former, but I see a lot of movement around here in the latter direction," he said.

The planner and others at HEW complained about continuing leadership vacuums and unfilled vacancies down the line, some in programs charged with dispensing millions of dollars in federal checks. The results, they said, include infighting about jurisdictions and "some people who try to move on their own, and others afraid to step out into that policy hiatus, so they aren't doing anything much."

A GS-14 working in a health care program said: "Everybody around here is an 'acting' something. Our supervisor, his supervisor and HIS supervisor are all in an 'acting' capacity. I call it the 'vanishing authority concept.' I can't pin anybody down to sign anything."

At the same time, he said, "there's plenty of 'fat' around here. You could go through the place and wipe out a third of the people and still have effective programs. The question is, which ones go?"

Many government workers emphasize that they favor improving the system, getting rid of incompetents and making programs more effective so their own work is more valuable and appreciated.

"The majority dedicated, competent employes feel they are being vilified because of a handful of incompetents," said Rep. Gladys Spellman (D-Md.). Her Washington-area constituency includes a high percentage of federal employes, and she also heads a subcommittee that will handle the president's civil service reform legislation proposals.

"Federal employes are not happy about being bogged down in a machine which by its very nature stifles innovation," Spellman said, reacting to charges by some administration aides that she plans to obstruct reform legislation.

"But, while we don't expect federal employes to be 'more equal' than other workers," she added, "we also want them not to be the whipping boys of disenchantment with government in general."

Traditionally, civil servants have "felt happier" with the big-government oriented Democrats in power, noted a long-time government worker now retired and working in the private sector. "Today the whole business of conservatism and liberalism is changing its meaning. It's hard for any national figure, politically, to stand up for the government worker today.

"I think federal employes have probably seen their best days," this worker said.

Carter's plans include not only a major reorganization of unknown dimensions, to streamline government agencies, but also proposals to change radically the way the government manages its work force. The proposals range from facilitating hiring, firing and promoting employes to revising pay scales.

In addition, the normal turbulences that keep the bureaucratic alphabet soup stirring have been intensified by an accumulation of leftover problems, including some neglected during Watergate.

Thousands of employes already have been demoted in the last year because of the government's job reclassification program, an evaluation process that often determines that an employe is overpaid for the work he is doing and results in the worker's being "busterd" (downgraded). Thousands of others still face that prospect in connection with various shakeups - office closings, layoffs and reorganizations and government error in job classification.

When a 49-year-old Commerce Department worked killed himself by jumping from the top of the seven-storey Commerce building last October, some friends and coworkers attributed the suicide in part to depression about his demotion. "It wasn't just the demotion. It was the cold and callous way it was done," a fellow employe said.

In repeated attempts to defuse bureaucratic hostility to his reorganization plans, Carter has promised federal workers that none will be hurt by his shakeups. Some agencies clearly were not abiding by that policy, administration officials said so the president last month underscored his intention by approving a plan to prevent federal agencies from firing workers or demoting them as a result of his reorganization.

Carter also said he would support legislation to restore grade and pay levels for at least two years to those demoted for reasons beyond their control during 1977. He urged federal managers generally to be as humane as possible.

Still, some managers and their employes remain confused. Edward Preston, an official with the Office of Management and Budget, explained that this is partly because the president's commitment does not extend to so-called internal reorganizations, closing of military bases and other managerial actions that are not part of Carter's own reorganization.

Preston also said there are problems sometimes in defining exactly which shakeups are those of Carter and which are those of someone else.

Among reorganizations clearly bearing the Carter lable, according to administration officials, are consolidation of scattered energy programs into a single Department of Energy, consolidation of a State Department bureau and the United States Information Agency into an International Communication Agency and the proposal for an independent agency for Education, wresting the "E" out of the massive HEW apparatus.

The recently announced layoff of 800 agents of the Central Intelligence Agency, which was followed by plummeting morale and rebellious mutterings in intelligence community ranks, obviously did not fall under the president's policy of protection.

Of the various internal or otherwise non-Carter actions, the most massive so far is the reorganization at HEW that eventually could affect as many as 10,000 employes in ways ranging from a change in their door plaques to being fired, officials said.

In addition, for reasons other than the reorganization, the officials expect an estimated 2,500 positions to be demoted to a lower pay level. Most of those positions are at the Social Security Administration.

"Nobody ever mentions the 33 million (Social Security) checks these people send out every month," said Harold Roof, president of the American Federation of Government Employees union local at SSA headquarters in Baltimore. "These employes are not going to give you the same dedication they gave you before. You've got the backbone of the (federal) work force totally frustrated."

But HEW, among the agencies, is "following the same pledge" that the president made for his own reorganizations and will not "throw anybody out," according to Thomas McFee, assistant secretary for personnel administration at HEW.

McFee said the agency is developing special placement programs and hopes to arrange an early retirement program to free some slots. These steps, combined with policies affecting, downgrading, should mean that the downgrading might involve "only the jobs, not the people in them," McFee said in any case, he said, "it should be at least four years before the downgradings effect people in their pocketbooks."