Grief over the death of a friend is often easier than mourning for the ideal that the friend epitomized. I feel that way about Rudy Frank. At his death last week at 39, Frank was a middle-level career public servant. Along with thousands of others, he came to Washington in the mid-1960s because government service was seen then as a high calling.

This was before put-downs of "faceless bureaucrats" became sure applause lines in presidentialspeeches. It was before corporate leaders began blaming their economic troubles on federal regulators. And it was well before we had a president who would try to convince the people that government in Washington was the enemy of the public good.

I came to know Rudy Frank during a visit in 1968 to the Navajo Community College near Rough Rock, Ariz. This was the nation's first Indian-controlled school and Frank, working in the research and development division in the Office of Economic Opportunity, was the federal worker most responsible for the mechanics of getting that control passed from Washington to the Navajos.

It wasn't hyped as "the New Federalism." It was merely the way the Navajos wanted their college to run. It was the way that Frank, shuttling between the natives on the reservation and the ones in Washington, believed it would be best run too. From his GS-13 desk deep in the Washington bureaucracy, he persuaded the deputy assistants to the director to persuade the director to persuade a congressional appropriations committee that a federal grant had a fair chance of helping educate a few impoverished Navajos.

In 17 years, Frank worked for three federal agencies. He won several government service awards. Merit raises were routine. In 1965, he came fresh from the University of Illinois to Head Start in the Office of Economic Opportunity. When the poor were told they didn't need OEO, Frank worked for its weakened successor, the Community Services Administration. When it was decided that CSA was also a luxury for the poor, he went to the Office of Education where he served for the past three years as the chief of program development in the civil rights office.

Frank was not high enough in the bureaucracy to have his comments sought by the media or to be an invited utterer of profound thoughts at seminars. He had better delights: an awareness that he and a large number of other middle-level workers were in jobs where governmental power was truly centered. To use it well--to act on Saul Alinsky's thought that "compromise is a noble word that sums up democracy"--was to keep trust with one's original reason for entering government service. It was to believe that personal ideals and federal authority could be aligned to help further the public good.

When Rudy Frank died of coronary arrest last week, the ideal of government service seemed to be dying also. Federal workers, regardless of their competence or proven dedication, are not merely the butts of bureaucrat jokes. Loudmouth blasts are common. "Get the government the hell out of the way," bellows Donald M. Kendall, the head of PepsiCo Inc., the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and supporter of Ronald Reagan.

As this bold St. George of the boardroom hunts for bureaucratic dragons to slay, the results when his wishes are carried out are often a sham. Earlier this month, the General Accounting Office reported that the administration's 1981 boast that it could save $1.6 billion by unloading 43,000 federal workers was off by as much as $1 billion. It has been reported too that the layoffs have disproportionately hit minority workers, women administrators and middle-level officials.

Without doubt, hordes of timeservers and paper shufflers can be found among the 362,000 federal civilian workers in Washington. But nothing indicates that the Reagan administration cares to distinguish between the hacks and the Rudy Franks who have worked conscientiously to put government at the service of the people.

Instead of adopting sound management policies that could reduce inefficiency, Reagan is doing little more than exploiting public cynicism about government workers--as though he is not one himself. And as though competent idealists like Rudy Frank aren't to be found in every federal agency