THE winds have blown hard, and often cruelly, through the Reagan administration's top ranks since January 1981. In the Cabinet, only Samuel Pierce, secretary of housing and urban development, remains - and he has kept the lowest of low profiles. Of President Reagan's White House triumvirate, two shifted posts (James Baker to the Treasury Department, his sterling credentials still intact; Edwin Meese to the Justice Department, his judgment often impugned). The third, Michael Deaver, has just been convicted of perjury in a Washington federal court. We cite the context of Mr. Deaver's predicament not to excuse him: Special prosecutor Whitney Seymour Jr. argued, duly, that Deaver had ``lied to the grand jury.'' Deaver ``blocked the investigation'' into alleged violation of federal ethics law. The law forbids high officials from trading on influence for a year after leaving an administration post, in some cases two years. Whether Deaver did so or not was not the issue; that he obstructed two separate inquiries by lying about his activities was found by a jury to be the issue. He will appeal the verdict; and a constitutional challenge to the Ethics in Government Law, pending in a federal appeals court, could lead to an overturning of his case. As the finding stands, however, Deaver was wrong.
But a lot else is wrong in Washington today, and elsewhere in power circles. It can be hard to keep your ethical feet when big contracts tempt you to cash in quick - in Deaver's case, offers from foreign governments and big contractors. Look at Wall Street's millionaires in their mid-20s, their Porsches now at risk. What's the rush?
``Get your share and get out'' is one way to approach a career. Another is to build a reputation slowly, integrity in every detail, and to let prospects come as they will. Some men and women have successfully combined private and government service in Washington careers that have spanned generations. Theirs is the better model.