A new boost by President Reagan draws attention to a largely unsung effort to help government and business understand each other. And, boy, do we need it now! At least as much when the current idea is to get Washington off business's back as when the program began a dozen years ago and its first chairman predicted ''a closer and closer relationship between commercial activity and government in the future.'' The aim was to improve this relationship by giving a certain number of civil servants and private executives a working knowledge of both realms through switching jobs for a year.
The mechanism for doing so was at first modestly called the President's Commission on Personnel Interchange. Later it became known a bit more loftily as the President's Commission on Executive Exchange, and Mr. Reagan is seeking to keep the caliber of participants high while doubling their number from this year's 39.
Some 600 men and women have participated, with results not only in information but in achievements while out of their own backyards. A foreign service officer went to an electrical company and ''gained a much, much fuller understanding of how business works and what an enormous contribution large corporations make to society.'' A corporate executive found that his year with the feds ''gave me a much better impression of the integrity and capability of senior executive government people.'' A government logistics specialist analyzed an aircraft engine manufacturer's procurement policies and recommended changes that could save millions of dollars a year. A private financial planner coordinated the design of a new budget when he was with the US Postal Service.
The possibility of conflict of interest immediately comes to mind, as it did when the program was initiated. But safeguards are built in, and the risk seems well worth the potential benefits.
Only a handful are involved from the vast bureaucracies of government and industry. But they all must bring back a more informed basis for responding to the other domain, and thus a little leaven for their respective lumps.