A report on the Federal Page yesterday incorrectly identified the current director of the Bureau of Prisons. He is J. Michael Quinlan. (Published 1/7/88)

Several years ago a young postdoctoral student at Harvard delivered a small seminar at the National Institutes of Health attended by Dr. Maxine F. Singer, chief of the biochemistry laboratory at the National Cancer Institute.

She was impressed, persuaded him to come to Bethesda, offered him a place to stay at her home, and allowed him to conduct his own research instead of merely helping with hers. Today, Dr. Carl Wu, selected last year as Maryland's outstanding young scientist, is one of a constellation of brilliant young researchers with whom Singer has surrounded herself at NIH.

Singer, a scientist with an international reputation, has worked hard at the nitty-gritty of federal administration -- recruiting, promoting, rewarding and contributing to others' research.

She was one of 58 senior executives honored by President Reagan yesterday with the Distinguished Presidential Rank Award, the nation's highest civil service prize.

"If I were the CEO of a giant corporation, I couldn't find a better group of executives to run my operation than the nearly 7,000 members of the Senior Executive Service you represent here today," the president told the award winners and their families.

"You are appreciated," Reagan said.

In ceremonies in the ornate Indian Treaty Room of the Old Executive Office Building, the president handed out almost twice the number of $20,000 awards he has made in the past. He noted that he was honoring civil servants in large and small agencies, in Washington and in the regions -- where 88 percent of federal workers are located.

"The president ended a seven-year bipartisan tradition today of downplaying the cash awards to the nation's top government managers," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), a longtime critic of the handling of the awards. "He rewarded more of our best employes and he did not hide while doing it."

Award winners included Norman A. Carlson, director of the Bureau of Prisons, whose determination to "talk forever" until the hostages were freed is credited with ending the recent prison takeovers by Cuban detainees in Georgia and Louisiana without massive bloodshed.

The largest number of awards went to the Defense Department, which employs about half of all federal civilian workers.

Under a separate category that carries a $10,000 bonus, 267 federal executives were honored for meritorious service.

Singer's colleagues say her work shows what can be accomplished in an extraordinary federal career.

Singer came to NIH 29 years ago after receiving her PhD at Yale. "She started out as a 'postdoc' and through hard work has become head of one of the largest labs in the cancer institute," said Dr. Joseph E. Rall, deputy director of intramural affairs at NIH.

"Maxine Singer is one of the great biochemists in the world," said Dr. Alan Rabson, who nominated her for the award.

"She has made major contributions to understanding what is sometimes called nonsense DNA or junk DNA" -- repeated sequences of deoxyribonucleic acid, one of life's essential substances, said Dr. Vincent T. DeVita Jr., director of the National Cancer Institute.

These sequences, which Singer has given names, have perplexed scientists for years because while they are common, their purpose has been a mystery.

Singer has been studying a "junk DNA" sequence she called "Line 1." Line 1 represents 5 percent of all human genetic material, and recent research has shown it to be a significant factor in human disease.

Colleagues say that Singer's highest praise goes to those who are "good citizens" -- by which she means they take on civic and scientific duties beyond those with direct personal benefit.

She has provided a personal example of this, colleagues say, by working for civil rights, human rights and scientific causes. She is a trustee of Yale and recently was named president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where she intends to work half time while continuing her laboratory work at NIH.