Nearly 10 percent of the government's highest-ranking bureaucrats left their jobs in 1985, with dissatisfaction with top management as the most common reason cited, according to the General Accounting Office.

The GAO found that 47 percent of the newly departed members of the Senior Executive Service, the government's top managers, said dissatisfaction with top management was of great importance in their decision to leave, and 43 percent said the same about the political appointees in their agencies.

"We lost 10 percent of our top executives in FY '85 and perhaps as many the following year," said Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Calif.), cochairman of the Federal Government Service Task Force, which released the report. "That's just too much turnover at the top."

"I don't know how statistically significant this study is," said James E. Colvard, deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management. "If truly people are upset by top management, we are concerned."

But based on his 30 years as a career civil servant, Colvard said, he believes retirement decisions "track more closely with retirement pay and tax considerations and other personal factors."

"SES members are pretty senior people when they get selected. Many of them are almost eligible to retire; they're attractive to business and are marketable," he said.

He said a rate of 9.6 percent "has been about normal for retirements from 1979 to 1986."

However, an aide to Fazio said SES departures "fluctuated" from year to year and called the upward trend since 1985 "disturbing."

"There was high turnover in 1980-1981 that began to decrease from 1982 to 1984," she said. "In 1985, we began to see the numbers creep up again."

In addition, she said, the GAO figures show that 63 percent of the SES members eligible for retirement left government within three years of becoming eligible. "This is a troubling statistic because we are now losing a core of civil servants who have reached their most productive years."

G. Jerry Shaw, general counsel to the Senior Executive Association, which represents the SES, said the report shows that "we're eating away at the career body politic of the federal government. There are a lot of symptoms and nobody doing anything about them.

"We have scattered reports of career SES members being supervised by political GS-14s and GS-15s. We have ancedotal evidence that some political people who are being brought in above the SES are not as qualified as they should be and people don't like working for them."

The GAO sent questionnaires to the 615 career bureaucrats who left the SES in 1985 and received responses from 469. About 68 percent retired, 20 percent resigned, 7.5 percent retreated to a GS-15 position, and the rest left under other circumstances, according to the responses. (The SES replaced GS grades 16 and above.)

The questionaire asked the former SES members to rank 55 reasons for leaving government as of "little or no importance" to of "very great importance." The most commonly cited reasons of great or very great importance were dissatisfaction with top management and with political appointees.

Even so, 30 percent of those who responded said dissatisfaction with top management was of little or no importance, and 37 percent checked a similiar response for the question about dissatisfaction with political appointees.

Only 103 people said inadequate salaries were greatly important, compared with 157 who checked off the unimportant category. A Republican congressional aide said this was typical of responses in both business and government surveys of this type.