Too bad President-elect Carter wasn't in Washington yesterday. It would have been an education for him. He would have learned about the real U.S. government here, something that isn't in any of the briefing books and transition papers that have been developed for him.

What the next President missed was the snowfall, as always happens Washington switched from being the world capital, a city of buildings that talk ("the White House says," "the Pentagon believes," "the State Department warned,") and became a company town filled with flesh-and-blood people. People who have to get to work before there can be a government.

With the relatively light snow, the nation's capital became an obstacle course for $350,000 government clerks, scientists, code-breakers and policy-makers who all slide into work together; or high officials who skinned their knuckles putting on snow tires; or government VIPs who, despite their rank, ran out of gas because they got stuck in traffic at Dupont Circle or on the beltway.

Those who did finally make it into work - and most did - found much of the morning taken up with office discussions or telephone calls about the horrors of commuting. People dragged in late because they had to chauffeur children not picked up by school buses, or find babysitters.

This was the real government that isn't shown in organizational tables, flow charts, zero-based budgeting or reorganization plans.

Some vignettes of a snow-day in government:

A multistar military man missed his usually early morning staff briefing because he had to put snow tires on his wife's car, an import model no less.

The chairman of a major commission, who can make thousands tremble, got stuck in traffic on Canal Road along with hundreds of lesser-rank citizens, including some of his own workers worried about being later than the boss.

The Carter transition aide who shaved (very badly by all reports) in an HEW bathroom because the water pipes in his new Bethesda neighborhood burst this morning.

A Senate committee staffer who used some trash from his car to give his wheels traction in the snow, only to learn that the "trash" included a draft bill his boss wanted early that morning. The congressman, by the way, was late, too. The bill will be introduced later.

The government's business - at least most of it - was done, as usual. But it would have been a good time for the new Carter team, which has reduced the government to numbers and statistics, to see and become part of the other, real operation. Leaders are fond of saying that this is a government of laws, and not men. Maybe so. But not when it snows. Then it becomes a government of men and women, not laws.