When the United States Football League holds its first college draft on Jan. 4, the Washington Federals will pick fourth. The Los Angeles Express will pick first, the Arizona Wranglers second and the New Jersey Generals third.

At league meetings held in Tampa last week, the owners of the USFL's 12 franchises drew lots to determine the order of selection. "We're very pleased with our position," said Federals owner Berl Bernhard. "We hope to sign a big-name player."

The Federals have committed themselves to spending $1.5 million on salaries in their first year of operation; Bernhard said he would not hesitate to spend much of that money on a top-flight college player. NFL teams generally spend between $3 and $5 million a year in player salaries.

Neither General Manager Dick Myers nor Director of Player Personnel Mike Faulkiner would comment on which player they would be seeking in the first round. Both said they would try to sign top-flight athletes, despite the NFL's obvious advantages--prestige and wealth.

"One thing we won't do, is shy away from anyone," said Faulkiner. "If guys like (Pittsburgh quarterback) Dan Marino or (SMU running back) Eric Dickerson are available, we'll pick them. We'd be crazy not to."

The Federals, like the other teams in the league, also will be eagerly awaiting the list of players at the end of their NFL contract commitments. "My God, we'd love to get a guy like (Dallas defensive lineman) Randy White," said Bernhard. "He's coming to the end of his contract, he's from Maryland, he'd be terrific for us."

The 24-round open draft will follow a territorial draft, in which teams are permitted to claim the rights to 26 players from five regional colleges. The Federals' regional schools are Maryland, Clemson, Virginia, South Carolina and Richmond.

Following the Federals in the open draft are, respectively, Birmingham, Chicago, Oakland, Philadelphia, Denver, Michigan, Boston and Tampa Bay.