Lt. Col. John M. Niswander, 71, an official of elections and trusteeships branch of the Labor Department and a retired Air Force investigations officer, died Thursday at the Andrews Air Force Base hospital during surgery for a kidney ailment.

Col. Niswander was born in Danville, Ind., graduated from Canterbury College and earned a master's degree at Indiana University. He was a high school teacher in Indiana until 1940, when he was commissioned in the old Army Air Corps.

In the course of his military career, Col. Niswander was an intelligence officer and then an officer in the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. He served in Korea and at a number of posts in this country. He was chief of the general investigations division of the OSI at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington when he retired in 1959.

The colonel then went to work at the Labor Department and also earned a law degree at Georgetown University. He helped found the elections and trusteeships branch, which was established under the Landrum-Griffin Labor Act of 1959. This set up machinery for settling disputes among unions and between unions and their members. He received the Labor Department's Distinguished Career Service Award.

Col. Niswander, who lived in Hillcrest Heights, was a member of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Washington and had served it as a warden and vestryman.

Survivors include his wife, the former Carol Peters, of Hillcrest Heights; a son, John, of Citrus Heights, Calif.; a daughter, Sarah Day of Encinitas, Calif., and one grandson.