About 80 high-level career employes at the Environmental Protection Agency would lose a grade on the civil service scale and $1,800 to $2,285 of their scheduled pay raise under a new plan approved by EPA Administrator Anne M. Gorsuch.

A number of Senior Executive Service employes were notified this week that they were being demoted from SES grade 5 to 4 or from grade 4 to 3. Their political bosses have until Dec. 28 to appeal the actions.

Gorsuch is expected to exempt some employes by Jan. 9, but exemptions may be the exception.

"This is just kicking the s--- out of morale here," said one SES employe. "Particularly coming just at the time of the pay raise."

"I don't think there's a Grinch involved here," said Joseph A. Cannon, associate administrator for policy and resource management. "It's a coincidence. This thing was in the works long before we knew we were going to have a pay raise."

The Senior Executive Service was created during the Carter administration to encourage top federal executives to forfeit some civil service protections in return for higher salaries and bonuses.

Earlier this year, the official said, the Office of Personnel Management sent EPA a memo indicating dissatisfaction with the number of EPA senior executives at the top SES grades. A more even distribution would be preferable, the memo said.

Gorsuch appointed a personnel task force to recommend a grade realignment. It eventually recommended that office directors carry an ES-4 grade and division directors ES-3, with supervisors given the power to request waivers.

Before the pay increases recently approved by Congress, the executives were paid $58,500. Those dropped from ES-4 to ES-3 will receive $61,515 instead of $63,800 after the raise. Those dropped from ES-4 to ES-5 will get $63,800 instead of $65,500.