Some of the government's top career executives -- and probably among a dwindling number of happy federal workers--took their bows on a State Department stage yesterday as recipients of $10,000 each for "meritorious" public service.

The bonuses were awarded to 161 members of the Senior Executive Service, an elite corps of about 7,000 federal managers. The recipients, nearly three-fourths of whom live in the Washington area, were selected by presidential review boards and included employes from 24 government agencies whose jobs range from fighting organized crime for the Justice Department to helping launch NASA's space shuttle.

"Some of you have earned international reputations," said presidential adviser Edwin Meese, who stood in for President Reagan at the State Department ceremony and made pointed references to the administration's less than cordial relationship with many federal workers.

Citing employe frustrations over pay caps and the failure to keep pace with their counterparts in the private sector, Meese credited the Reagan administration with winning pay raises for senior federal executive last year. And he said the Reagan White House also is concerned about the misinformation on and stereotyping of federal employes.

"I extend to you the commitment of the president to work together so that we can honorably and effectively serve the nation and our fellow citizens," Meese said.

Last November, as part of an annual recognition system set up under the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, President Reagan handed out $20,000 bonuses to 38 SES members judged "outstanding" by the review boards.

Yesterday, with Meese having to return to the White House, it was left to Donald Devine, director of the Office of Personnel Management, to present the framed certificates honoring the "meritorious" winners. They had already received their checks.

"You did a super job, you deserve it," Devine told the winners and family and friends who attended the ceremony.

Warren Lasko, executive vice president of the Housing and Urban Development Department's Government National Mortgage Association, said he was "genuinely proud" to get his award and appreciated Meese's praise of government employes.

"Federal workers feel under siege these days, and I think Mr. Meese said a lot of things that were very nice to hear," Lasko, 42, said. The Chevy Chase father of two said his kids "have college plans, so the money's all spoken for."

George Peterson, who has been a federal worker for 33 of his 52 years, was honored for his work as director of the materials laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. He said Meese's "apparent sincere attempt to improve the image of the public servant" was what he liked best about the ceremony.

"It's more important to me than even the pay," he said.