A former Michigan manpower official, William R. Ford, was chosen yesterday by Mayor Marion Barry to head the District of Columbia's troubled Labor Department.

Barry also disclosed his selection of Herbert Simmons Jr., a lawyer and department head at Howard University, as director of the city's Office of Consumer Protection.

In announcing Ford's appointment to the $47,500-a-year post, Barry said he had found, after taking office in January, that the management of the Labor Department was "much worse than I thought." Ford, he said, was the best qualified candidate after his first choice, a woman, turned the job down.

Barry said the U.S. Department of Labor has agreed to set up a joint task force with the city to recommend improvements in the city's labor agency.

The D.C. department, with about 1,200 employees paid mostly from federal funds, is responsible for the city's employment and job training programs, including local administration of the Comprehensive Employment Training Act, known as CETA.

Long known as the D.C. Manpower Department, it was reorganized last year into the Labor Department. It had a reputation for failing to deliver adequate services and for administrative cronyism.

Soon after Barry took office, he dropped its director, Thomas A. Wilkins, and put one of his own staff assistants, Matthew F. Shannon, into the job temporarily. Shannon will now move back to his regular job as special assistant to the mayor.

Ford, 45, who for three years headed the 5,200-employee Michigan Employment Security Commission and was the first black to do so, comes to Washington from Lagos, Nigeria, where he was economic consultant for Delta Oil Ltd. He has been awarded both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees by Michigan State University.

The nominations of both Ford and Simmons are subject to confirmation by the D.C. City Council. Both will serve as acting directors until they are confirmed. To meet new residency requirements, Barry said, both will live in the District.

Simmons, 36, will leave his post as chairman of Howard University's department of consumer education and resource management to accept the $38,000-a-year D.C. consumer post.

A former executive director of the National Consumer Protection Center and teacher at the former Federal City College, Simmons graduated from Grambling University and received a law degree at Howard.

As in the case of the Labor Department, Barry had dropped Bettie J. Robinson from the post of consumer protection director when he came into office. She was temporarily replaced with one of his staff members, Marie Dias. Dias also will return to her regular job.

During the news conference, his first on municipal affairs since returning last week from Africa, Barry said he still believed the city was not actually guilty of violations of CETA regulations to which he officially admitted last week.

"No member of the [city] council willingly or with forethought violated CETA guidelines" in hiring 88 workers who were described by federal investigators as wrongfully placed on the payroll between 1975 and 1977, Barry said.

"What we had," Barry said, "was a badly managed D.C. Department of Labor," which failed to administer CETA properly. Barry likened his formal admission of the city's wrongdoing to acquiescence by a defense attorney who knows his client is innocent but lacks the evidence to prove it.

The city will repay $1.4 million in CETA funds, as required by his agreement with the federal government, by hiring people referred under the CETA program to fill regular city jobs, Barry said. This will avert the need to ask Congress for a special appropriation. "That is why I thought it was such a sweet deal," Barry said.

Barry also defended his summer jobs program for 30,000 youths. The program had come under attack for alleged payroll confusion and a failure to match many individuals with jobs. Barry said that fewer than one percent of the youth had experienced such problems.

Barry also dismissed as "media speculation" a report published while he was in Africa that Police Chief Burtell Jefferson would retire in October because of differences with the mayor. "If I were dissatisfied with the chief, he wouldn't be there now," Barry said. CAPTION: Picture 1, HERBERT SIMMONS JR...to head consumer protection office; Pciture 2, WILLIAM R. FORD...to head D.C. Labor Department