Shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected president, a sample of the federal government's top managers was asked whether employes' workload could be increased.

About 60 percent of those managers said that it could, at least to some extent.

They soon got the chance to prove it, as Reagan went on to trim the size of the executive branch by more than 76,000 employes in his first 14 months in office.

The Merit Systems Protection Board has just released the results of that survey, which found that a majority of federal employes who were GS13s or higher said they felt at least a little more work could be squeezed from their subordinates.

Twenty percent of the Senior Executive Service surveyed and 24 percent of managers in the GS13 to 15 grades said that if the number of their subordinates remained the same, their work could be increased "to a very great extent" or "to a considerable extent." Forty-three percent of SESers and 35 percent of the GS13 to 15s said productivity could be increased "to some extent."

However, 38 percent of the SESers and 41 percent of the GS 13 to 15s said the workload could be increased only a little or not at all.

The MSPB hastened to note, though, that "significant changes have occurred in the direction and funding of federal programs and agencies since these surveys were conducted. It is quite likely that these changes have had at least some impact on the indicators we discuss here."

The MSPB itself demonstrates some of those "changes." An MSPB spokesman said he was unsure whether staff cuts had contributed to the year and a half it had taken to publish the survey, but noted that the agency's survey office had had several vacancies that it could not fill and that budget cuts had prohibited the gathering of new data.

He pointed out that 50 percent of the agency's employes face a 90-day furlough if Congress fails to approve additional funds. "You can bet," he said, "that our productivity will drop then."