A gust of bad publicity fails to topple Reagan's popularity

Ronald Reagan's administration has run into a patch of turbulence. In its third-year flight path, a number of officials have either had to make explanations, answer critics, or resign. But there is no sign that this has markedly undercut the White House.

The public generally likes Mr. Reagan, polls show, whether or not it agrees with his policies. His prestige does not seem to be deeply affected by trouble in the embattled Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or by word that a presidential aide may have netted $427,000 from a single 1981 stock-options investment of $3,125 on an insider's tip.

It is generally felt that administrative troubles within an organization as big as the United States government are inevitable. So far the protective shield around the White House has successfully dealt with a recent flurry of problems. The damage to Mr. Reagan himself has been held to a minimum.

First came the Superfund controversy. The EPA under administrator Anne Burford was heavily criticized in Congress for its handling of the $1.6 billion program for cleaning up hazardous-waste disposal sites. Political manipulation and mismanagement were alleged. Congress demanded certain records that Mrs. Burford withheld on legal advice from the US attorney general and on written orders from Reagan. Congress initiated contempt proceedings.

Ultimately, Burford chose to resign, with President Reagan expressing loyalty and regret.

But problems at the EPA continued to grab headlines. Now it is Mrs. Burford's immediate successor, acting EPA director John Hernandez Jr., who is the focus of criticism. In 1981, it is alleged, a preliminary EPA report blamed the Dow Chemical Company for lax antipollution efforts that allowed dioxin contamination of rivers near its plant in Midland, Mich. Mr. Hernandez says he ordered the report sent to Dow to get the firm's response. The criticisms of Dow were deleted from the final draft of the report.

Meanwhile, like a set of firecrackers that keep on exploding, another EPA official, Louis J. Cordia, resigned here this week. Charges against him include: (1) ordering the erasure of computerized data involving cases that Congress is investigating, and (2) compiling a ''hit list'' (said to have been found in his files) characterizing some agency employees as ''unacceptable to the administration'' and others as desirable because of their conservative views.

Finally, there's the controversy surrounding Thomas C. Reed, a special assistant to the President and consultant for the President's Commission on Strategic Forces, which is scheduled to make recommendations on MX basing in mid-April. Evidence indicates that Mr. Reed profited when the Standard Oil Company of California undertook merger negotiations with Amax Corporation.

Did he have ''inside information''? If Reed profited by a such a tip, he could become liable to various legal actions, including suits by other shareholders. The White House could be embarrassed by propinquity to such frenzied finance. Here again congressional investigators and the media establishment are in full cry.Reed says he will leave the White House consultant's job after the MX matter is settled. He denies any investment tip. His good fortune was just like ''a lottery ticket,'' he says.

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