His own good advice

It would be a millenial government that was free of personnel problems. Democratic and Republican presidents alike, whatever their best intentions, often end up having to face embarrassing disclosures of mismanagement or wrongdoing by their appointees. Ronald Reagan is having his share of such problems, and his leadership - like that of any president - will be judged not by the fact that instances of bureaucratic confusion and alleged misconduct have surfaced in his administration, but by how vigorously and quickly he acts to clean them out.

There are reasons for the current crop of personnel difficulties: for one, the inexperience (and questionable background) of many appointees and, for another, the philosophical attitude which seems to place inordinate emphasis on making use of proven professionals outside government. It would be a pity if failure to modify this approach undermined the President's policies at home and abroad. After the mid-point of his term, Mr. Reagan seems to have reason for hope of progress on a number of fronts: the US economy, the Middle East, arms control. But bureaucratic battles could divert energies and attention away from the substantive issues.

Take the Adelman case. The appointment of Kenneth Adelman to be head of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency was disappointing to begin with. Many lawmakers are skeptical of Mr. Adelman's commitment to arms control and experience in that field. President Reagan could spare himself further confrontation in the Senate by withdrawing that name and nominating someone like Paul Nitze or Brent Scowcroft - men of proven expertise and conservative credentials - to fill the slot. Mr. Reagan cannot but be aware of the loss of confidence which the Adelman affair is generating among America's allies.

If that weren't enough, there is now the ''Rowny affair'' - a new chapter in a bureaucratic wrangle beginning to resemble Alice in Wonderland. Gen. Edward Rowny, strategic-arms negotiator in Geneva, sent a memorandum to Mr. Adelman which reportedly includes a ''hit list'' of colleagues criticized as being too eager to reach an arms control agreement. The Senate is investigating. But meantime the arms control talks are bound to be clouded by this personal uncertainty, innuendo, and accusation.

Americans are concerned about two things. One is the scandal and impropriety coming to light. Recently, for example, Thomas Reed, a California businessman, withdrew as a special assistant for national security affairs after reports that he had profited from inside information in the trading of stock options. Even more disturbing is the appearance of a willingness to skirt implementation of federal laws, of less than wholehearted commitment to policies adopted by the US Congress and deemed in the public interest. In the latest quarrel with the White House this week, the chairman and vice-chairman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights - both conservative Republicans appointed by Mr. Reagan - complained of ''a lack of cooperation'' by the administration on matters affecting enforcement of civil rights laws. Perhaps because of the EPA brouhaha and a desire to head off still another dispute, the White House has quickly decided to be more accommodating - a welcome response.

It should not take such complaints - or the kind of scandal and mismanagement that have rocked EPA - to bring about a proper tone of rectitude and observance of the law. President Reagan is entitled to criticize laws which he thinks unduly shackle the private sector. But, if he does not like them, he should act to change them; if he cannot get them changed, he should see that they are fairly and conscientiously carried out - whether they concern clean air, toxic dumps, or minority rights. That is the least to be expected of a president of all the people.

Mr. Reagan seems to recognize the problem by appointing William Ruckelshaus to head up the EPA again - a man who stood so courageously on the side of probity during the Watergate years. It can be hoped that this foretokens not just a change of leadership at the troubled environmental agency but a change of policy in the direction of stronger efforts to implement the Clean Air Act and other laws. The President cannot bat 1000 on every appointment, perhaps. But he does set the standards he wishes observed in his administration. His advice when he took office was, ''Decisions should be made on the basis of what is good for the nation, not their political ramifications.''

That advice is what should govern appointments now.

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