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The elections could hasten Ray Donovan's departure from Washington.

The labor secretary wants to stay in the Reagan Cabinet. But Washington insiders expect that he'll be gone early in '83. Substantial changes appear to be coming in the Reagan administration. Some top officials are expected to return to private life, some may shift to other offices, and some - Donovan among them - may be asked to resign. The recent election may have had more impact on Donovan's future than the investigations into charges that his construction firm had ties to organized crime. He survived the probing. But the administration is under growing GOP pressure to counteract the Democrats' growing gains among unionized workers.

Insiders say Donovan has failed to establish good relations with the AFL-CIO, and this is expected to cost him his post.m Milo and Binkley and Opus, oh my!

The two politicized half-pints and the penguin, who romp through mythical Bloom County with their supporting cast of several, are enjoying a burst of popularity now that Doonesbury and friends are taking time off to grow up. Gary Trudeau, Doonesbury's creator, is taking up to a 20-month sabbatical to move Zonker, B.D., and the rest of the college crowd ''into the larger world of grown-up concerns.'' Since this move was announced in September, distribution of the Bloom County strip has grown from 139 to 188 daily papers. And the number of college papers taking the strip has doubled. The reason: Papers found themselves with an open slot on the comics page and not many choices in the area of social and political satire.

But it could be a short-lived burst for the Bloomers. Newspapers are eager to get the updated Doonesbury cast back on the comics page.m Sponges in space . . . and they're not for the cleaning the galley!

Experiments designed by three high school students (who are now undergraduates in college) were carried aloft in the Columbia yesterday. The students and their experiments are Aaron K. Gillette, now at Western Carolina Univeristy, growth of sponges in zero gravity; Michele A. Issel, now at American University, formation of crystals in a weightless environment; and D. Scott Thomas, now at Utah State University, surface tension convection in a weightless environment. Corporations provided the money and technical know-how to build equipment for the projects and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration foots the bill for the flight.

The experiments were chosen more than two years ago from among 1,500 proposed by high school students from across the country.m Trying to make a fast buck off of hard times?

The Federal Trade Commission has taken two North Carolina firms to court, charging their ''Help Wanted'' ads for truck drivers had no jobs behind them and were aimed - deceptively - at persuading would-be drivers to buy close to $2,000 in training and consulting services. The FTC's complaint seeks a permanent injunction against the firms. It charges that the driver training the firms offered is inadequate and that the companies to which the trainees were referred either were not hiring or wouldn't hire such students.

Though the agency won't talk about it, an FTC spokesman concedes there is at least one other similar case under investigation.m Strains of Strauss in Tel Aviv!

Up to now, German composer Richard Strauss - through his music - has been a persona non grata in Israel. He is alleged to have been a Nazi sympathizer, and much of his music became themes of sorts for the Germans during World War Two. But the Israel Broadcast Authority, on the advice of visiting conductor Igor Markevitch, 70, has lifted a ban on performing Strauss' works on state radio and TV. Markevitch says Strauss never took a stand against the Jews. The composer, he says, accepted an official position as president of the Chamber of Music under the Nazi regime ''because of weakness of character.''

Markevitch adds that Strauss lost the job because he used his position to defend Jewish musicians and maintained his contacts with Jewish friends.m

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