Charles Inlander is an administrative Moses who hopes to lead an exodus of nearly 900 mentally retarded people out of the Forest Haven institution and back into the community. But unlke Moses, he says his job will be completed in less than 40years.

Inlander, who was hired by the city four months ago, said no deadling has been set to complete the task. But he estimates it will take less than 10 years to develop local, self-help programs to enable mentally retarded people to live as normally as possible in the community.

Inlander's job is the result of a 1978 federal court order direction the Department of Human Resources to devise a plan to close the Laurel, Md., facility by relocating the residents in community-based facilities.

The order specified that DHR hire a mental retardation expert to help DHR administrators write the plan, implement it and make reports to the court every 90 days, detailing progress or setbacks.

Inlander, 32, is single, has a BA in public administration from American University and has completed his course work for a master's degree in the same area. He was selected for his job after a nationwide search that produced more than 200 applicants. The unanimous selection was made by a three-member panel of mental retardation experts from DHR, the D.C. Associatio for Retarded Citizens (DCARC) and the President's Committee on Mental Retardation.

Since Inlander came to DHR, officials and community workers have gotten used to seeing the man with the Chaplin-like gait, Chuck Mangonie moustache and Pepsodent grin turn up at many meetings to discuss the problems of the mentally retarded.

Like some of his DHR colleagues, Inlander contends that the trend to deinstitutionalize Forest Heven residents started long before the recent court order. Success, however, has been hampered by poor planning and a lack of community support, he says.

"I see myself as a facilitator to get things going," he says. "If I didn't do this, I'd just be another arm-chair liberal saying, 'Isn't it great government can't perform or won't perform?' I'm going to stay here as long as I feel it's gaining progress and happening."

As an administrator of several private programs for the mentally retarded in Pennsylvania, Inlander acquired a national reputation for being able to make innovative changes in a field where maintaining the status quo of confining the mentally retarded to institutions had been the norm. In recent years, however, court orders and the high cost of government services have forced administrators to consider changes.

Before coming to Washington, Inlander was executive director of the Institute for Research and Development in Retardation, a nonprofit, advocacy group that acquired government and private grants to establish community rehabilitation programs for the mentally retarded.

Inlander's responsibilities included fundraising, budget management, community outreach and developing grant proposals for programs he later administered.

Asked why he became involved, he laughingly describes himself as a "cause-oriented type person," who entered the field five years ago and then got hooked on the people and their problems.

When Forest Haven is closed, he says his job here will end. With community support and proper planning, he estimates the institution can be phased out in 10 years. He expects it to take that long to develop and maintain community programs, where, in many cases, none now exist.

The plan, he says, will include a variety of community programs, including some that Inlander believes require officials to look at new options for providing community care for the mentally retarded.

For instance, he notes, some severely retarded Forest Haven residents may need 24-hour medical care. "Why can't a 10-bed nursing home be established instead of a 1,000-bed institution?" he asks.

Other options for community living arrangements, which he expects to be included in the plan, will be the development of more group homes (the city already operates seven and has contracts with two private group homes), subsidized apartments, small nursing homes and other types of community-based facilities.

The final plan is expected to be submitted to the court late next month.

Implementing the plan will be the most difficult and lengthy part of the task, Inlander sys, primarily because a vast base of community programs will have to be developed.

"Forest Haven (residents) represent less than 3 percent of the mentally retarded people in D.C," he says, but there are no community programs to help them.

He ticks off the problems: The public education system is not required to provide special education for mentally retarded adults; there is a shortage of sheltered workshops to teach people job skills and vocational and social training; no structured, community programs exist to teach mentally retarded people such skills as banking, budgeting and the use of public transportation. Those areas, Inlander says, represent the gaps in community programs that DHR will fill.

Inlander emphasized that a major part of the deinstitutionalization process will be proper follow-up services for residents who leave Forest Haven.

To develop progrmad, Inlander hopes to garner community support and, if need be, work for change through the courts.

"I'm a big believer in the use of public pressure to provide for the public," he says, grinning.

As more Forest Haven residents return to the community, he said, he expects mental retardation advocates, such as the D.C. Association for Retarded Citizens, to be actively involved in assuring that their civil rights are not violated.

"What we're going to see now, I hope, is fewer class-action suits and more individual advocacy for the mentally retarded."

He refers to the successful lobbying efforts of the DCARC, praising their most recent victory to get the D.C. City Council to pass a bill of rights for mentally retarded people. "Eleven-zero was the vote," Inlander said.

But along with achievements, he says, "There's a certain amount of exploitation that comes with the process" of bringing institutionalized people back to the community.

"In Pennsylvania, 4,000 (mentally retarded) people were deinstitutionalized in six years. I've seen situations where they (merchants) double charged the retarded for food or used them in peonage situations to do work.

"The backlash is, people say, 'See, they get exploited.' Sure they get exploited, but I do too!" he said.

In those six years, however, he said only 30 to 40 people of the 4,000 released from the institutions returned. Most remained in the community. He saw a few in jail.

"They should have every right to become a statistic in terms of teen-age pregnancy and anything else," he says.

"I don't know if the community is prepared to accept the mentally retarded (in the District)," he said. "But they're going to have to."