Four years after he called it quits on politics to "give more time to God, my family and my profession," former Arlington County Board member and Metro chairman Joseph S. Wholey is back in the public spotlight.

Gov. Charles S. Robb has appointed the 47-year-old Democrat to a four-year unsalaried term on the nine-member state Board of Welfare the policy making body that governs the operation of Virginia's welfare system.

But Wholey said the appointment does not necessarily signal his return to active politics.

"I'm just going to take this one year at a time," he said. "I'm not at the present moment gearing up to run for something. We'll just have to see what may happen. I didn't seek this appointment; I was approached to see whether I'd be willing to serve. I thought it over and decided, yes, it was a contribution I could make."

Wholey was recommended for the job by Joseph L. Fisher, Robb's secretary of human resources, who served with Wholey on the Arlington County Board before spending three terms as the 10th district congressman, and by current County Board member John G. Milliken.

Friends and political allies, such as Milliken and County Board member Ellen M. Bozman, also do not think Wholey plans to reemerge in the political arena. "I don't see this as a political stepping stone," Bozman said. "I think it's more connected to his professional career."

Milliken said it was Wholey's professional credentials that made him "extraordinarily qualified" for the job. Besides serving on the County Board from 1971 to 1978 and as its chairman three times, Wholey served as chairman of the Metro board in 1978. He also served two 2-year tours in the Johnson and Carter administrations as deputy assistant secretary for program evaluation at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which became Health and Human Services.

He currently runs Wholey Associates, a consulting firm that specializes in organizational and financial management, and is a professor of public administration at the University of Southern California's public affairs center, splitting his time between the two coasts. He is president of the board of directors of the Hospice of Northern Virginia.

His job on the state welfare board technically will occupy only two half-days monthly, Wholey said, but he noted that he may want to spend more time than that. In his new post, Wholey said, he wants to "see how we can help make health and welfare programs more effective, more efficient, more responsive and more equitable."

"We should work on how we can make government serve the people better and educate the public as to what government is or isn't doing," he said. "If you ask the general public if they're willing to spend money on welfare, they say no. But if you break it down into all the individual pieces like foster care, aid to the elderly, aid for mothers and children, and if there's no one else there to support them, aid to the handicapped and so forth, they change what they say.

"So part of the problem is a better communication of what it is specifically that is being done."