Where has the National Commission on the Public Service been for the past few months? Living in a cave? Or stranded on some remote desert island?

Either the commission must be blissfully ignorant of the angry public backlash that forced Congress to spurn a big pay raise for its members recently, or maybe the panel is just determined to reopen the wounds left by that fight.In any event, the commission is calling this week for pay raises of approximately 50 percent over two years for members of Congress as well as for top U.S. officials and federal judges.

The raise for the lawmakers is clearly out of order. But the other proposed pay hikes make sense. In fact, the panel could have gone further and recommended some raises for certain federal workers in lower ranks. That goes particularly for NASA, which is said to be losing so many able employees to higher paying private jobs that the space agency could be running the risk of another disaster like the one involving the Challenger space shuttle.

Federal judges also deserve a raise. Unlike congressmen, the judges are supposed to serve for life. That means they cannot look forward to cashing in on their contacts and experience by becoming well-heeled lobbyists. Nor can they supplement their current incomes by pocketing "honorariums" from those who come before the courts, as congressmen do from various interests that may have dealings with Congress.

This doesn't mean that judges should make as much as top corporate lawyers; the ethic of public service still ought to matter. But the public is not always well serviced when experienced judges are not paid as much as some brand-new graduates from law school. Moreover, judges' pay ought to keep up with inflation. As Scripps Howard News Service recently noted:

"If judges' salaries continue to drop when adjusted for inflation, the sole attraction of the job will be raw power - the temptation to write sweeping, radical decisions that further hamstring the elected branches of government. Those who relish such power are just the sort of people who should not have it."

By all means, then, some raises are in order for judges and various other federal officials and workers. But please spare us another squabble over a congressional pay raise, particularly so closely on the heels of the last bruising battle.