The military services have created a new version of the old "revolving door" through which retired officers are snapped up by private contractors to do as civilians for the military the same things they did when they wore uniforms.

This use of retired military people on Defense Department service contracts has become almost common practice, and the Pentagon's inspector general is investigating whether it has led to improprieties.

The problem is that the Defense Department's manpower ceilings have not risen as fast as the rest of its budget and the tasks it has to perform. Thus, the Pentagon has turned increasingly to "contracting out." Some training and test development that used to be performed entirely by uniformed personnel are being added to custodial and maintenance services on the list of contracts offered to private companies.

In many cases, the military's business goes to private firms formed and staffed by retired officers who were performing the same or similar services in the military.

For instance, in 1980, Burnside-Ott of Miami, whose military division was organized by a retired Navy pilot, won a contract to train student naval pilots on flight simulators.

A Washington Post investigation found that within two years of winning the contract, Burnside-Ott had hired 63 retired Navy and Marine Corps officers as instructors, 30 of whom had most recently served in Navy training commands or at air bases where the training was done.

Last year, Burnside-Ott offered a competitive bid for a five-year, $40 million expanded contract and won it. The contract now covers basic and advanced naval flight simulator training.

Today, Burnside-Ott says it has 218 retired officers on its payroll, a majority of them former Navy pilots.

In another case, Veda Inc., an Air Force contractor, won a contract in 1981 to provide tactical test scenarios and other services to the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The first local manager for Veda was a former deputy commander of the wing, who had performed many of the duties he then performed for the private contractor.

Over the next two years, the contractor hired four more former officers from the 57th Wing, including the officer who originally briefed contractors on the scope of the contract.

Retired officers employed by Burnside-Ott and Veda, who were interviewed over the last two months, said their service expertise allows them to give the Pentagon more for its money. Some said part of the work they now are doing could be done by uniformed military personnel, but Congress has limited the number of active-duty personnel.

By using former officers, who get retirement pay, Burnside-Ott is able to pay its instructors about $22,000 a year, one of them said in a recent interview.

"There is no retirement fund from the company, there is no future beyond instructing and the salary is not red hot for the experience level," this retired officer said.

"But most retired officers do nicely on it," he added, "and there is a ready source for personnel" in the men who continue to come out of the Navy.

Burnside-Ott and Veda officials deny that their hirings had any influence on winning the contracts.

Burnside-Ott military division manager Burt Shrine, a retired Navy captain, said, "Nobody he had hired had any hand in the decision to go to contract out simulator instruction or to award to this company."

Shrine, several of his retired pilot instructors and active-duty Navy officers in the Defense Department maintain that Burnside-Ott's retired naval pilots give student pilots better simulator instruction than active-duty pilots once did. In those days, they said, younger Navy pilot-intructors never liked simulator duty and sometimes were assigned it because they couldn't fly.

However, the Pentagon inspector general's office is looking into both contracts to determine whether any improprieties -- including the improper use of influence -- were involved in the award or management of these and other service contracts.

Hiring retired officers as instructors, while new to the Navy, is not an innovation for the military as a whole. The Army for years has been using civilian instructors at Fort Rucker, Ga., to train helicopter pilots. Several of them are retired Fort Rucker instructors. What is new, however, is the rapid expansion of the practice into the other services.

Shrine said last week that Burnside-Ott is bidding on an Air Force contract in the Tampa area to give flight simulator instruction. There, he said, he is "proposing using 100 retired Air Force pilots."

Federal conflict of interest statutes bar retired officers only from working in sales and marketing on programs for which they had contract authority while in government service. A base or unit commander or staff officer, who ran or had an advisory role on a program, would not be covered by such a prohibition.

Shrine, who retired from the Navy in 1975, said he was in business for himself in Jacksonville, Fla., early in 1980, when he learned the Navy was looking to contract out a limited amount of its basic flight training.

He said he organized the Burnside-Ott military division with some retired colleagues and "entered a proposal in the competitive solicitation" that included a list of retired Navy pilots as instructors.

A competitor, Richard B. Lamar, executive vice president of Hawthorne Services, of Charleston, S.C., said the fact that "a majority of Burnside-Ott's staff are ex-Navy didn't hurt them."

In the summer and fall of 1980, Cmdr. Robert C. Muller was on the staff of the Navy basic-training wing at Whiting Field, Fla. His job, according to his Pentagon file, was to "administer, monitor primary flight-plan training for future . . . . "

Shrine talked to him about Burnside-Ott "in the summer of 1980," Muller said in an interview, and offered him a job in October, "two weeks after he Shrine won the contract." Since Nov. 1, 1980, one day after he left active duty, Muller has been director of operations for Burnside-Ott in Pensacola.

Muller said he "fully appreciates the problem of perceptions," but "I was not in any position to influence" either the contracting out of the simulator training or the award. "It was all done without any input from me," he said.

Since June 14, 1982, two weeks after he left the Navy, retired captain T. Frank Rush has been one of Burnside-Ott's instructors in Pensacola. From 1979 until he retired, he was assistant chief of staff for flight training for the chief of Navy education and training (CNET) in Pensacola. He acted as liaison for CNET between Navy headquarters in the Defense Department, which made the decision to contract out, and the Navy Air Training Command at Corpus Christi, Tex.

Rush said he was "not directly involved" in the contracting program and "was just monitoring one end of the spectrum."

When he went to his job in 1979, Rush said, turning to civilian instructors to reduce the number of pilots on shore duty was "a necessity to meet the pilot shortage."

Muller said the Navy had 350 pilots and 40 enlisted men working as instructors at Whiting in 1980, and they have "about the same number of pilot instructors now, but there are more students going through." He estimated that the Navy would need 500 pilots to handle the current teaching load if the civilians were not handling simulator instruction.

From 1980 to 1982, the Burnside-Ott contract was expanded. According to Rush, who was with CNET at the time, the Navy dropped the idea of having civilians do some of the in-flight training and decided that "civilians would do all simulator work."

According to public records on file at the Pentagon, in 1982 Burnside-Ott hired:

* The officer who just retired as planning coordinator for the chief of naval air training.

* The officer who retired as CNET assistant chief of staff in charge of training systems management.

* The retired executive officer at Whiting Field, where Navy basic flight training and Burnside-Ott simulator training took place.

* The retired executive officer at the Meridian Naval Air Station in Mississippi, where Burnside-Ott began a training operation.

* The retired chief staff officer of the training wing at the Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi.

In the Nellis Air Force Base case, the Air Force decided to seek bids for the tactical test scenarios because the "workload for the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing was far greater" than could be handled by its personnel, according to Lt. Col. John Kuminecz, public relations director at Nellis.

"Many authorized slots were not funded," he said, so operations and maintenance funds, which were not constrained, were used to finance a contract to handle duties that "prior to this had been done by blue suiters uniformed Air Force officers ."

Retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Richard L. Frassato manages the Veda contract, which will end April 30, at Nellis. When the contract was first awarded in 1981, he was director of tactics and test operations for the 57th Fighter Weapons Wing and briefed the initial bidders.

He retired in December 1982 and went to Veda the following June.

Frassato said he "managed the project while in service" and since June 1983 has "written test plans for project managers." Veda lost the contract when it was set aside for small business competition. Two former Veda employes, who had been hired after retiring from the 57th Wing, have been hired to work for the new company that won the contract.