Five years ago, Congress passed the Age Discrimination Act. Now some Justice Department officials, still now trying to come up with regulations to implement the law, have concluded that few if any persons may be covered by the legislation.

The act supposedly prohibits any discrimination based on age -- against children, the elderly or any other age group -- by institutions that have received federal money. But, in drafting the measure, Congress realized there had to be some exceptions where age distinctions were set by existing law, for example or by the "normal operations" of the institution.

Justice Department lawyers have drawn up and published in the Federal Register proposed rules for implementing the act in connection with departmental assistance programs.

Based on their analysis, however, Justice Department lawyers called on other agencies and the Regulatory Council to "examine further the effects of the act." The reason, one Justice lawyer said, is that "we are not sure it covers very many people" because the exceptions are so broad.

For example, age distinctions in juvenile courts or prisons for young offenders, the Justice lawyers believe, fit well within the legal exceptions.

A private organization that gets Justice Department money to assist juveniles to return to school and find jobs will have to explain why it does not offer aid to the elderly but, under the "normal operations" provision, should have no trouble.

The only provision of the law that would be operative, one lawyer said, is the one that requires every recipient of federal money that has 15 or more employes to write a onetime evaluation on how it adheres to the act.