You have to hand it to this administration. Single-minded in pursuit of its goals, if it doesn't get what it wants one way, it goes after it in another.

Its goal is to rid the United States of every vestige of affirmative action! Forget the evidence that it largely works and that many of its tenets are broadly supported.

Urging President Reagan to repeal a 24-year-old executive order requiring federal contractors to set numerical goals to remedy discrimination in the work place, several top administration officials wrote a draft executive order that was first revealed in the press in August.

Their substitute order eliminated rules that require some contractors to meet goals and timetables in hiring minorities and women. Moreover, a compromise order now being worked on will probably kill the original order just as effectively; the corpse will simply be dressed in a Sunday suit.

Did the Justice Department and Office of Management and Budget propose this order affecting 73,000 private firms because discrimination no longer exists?

Not in the opinion of business groups and civil rights and womens' rights activists. According to a letter written to President Reagan from 126 Democratic and Republican members of the House of Representatives, "Goals, timetables and statistics remain an essential tool in combating discrimination and are a necessary and proper response to the tragic legacy of historical discrimination which continues to plague our country today."

Indeed, many court decisions have endorsed the use of numerical goals in cases of discrimination.

The Supreme Court has sanctioned the use of statistics in proving discrimination in employment. Even Congress and the executive branch often set numerical goals to measure the effectiveness of programs.

So what is driving the Justice Department to try to repeal an executive order that has been in place during three Republican and two Democratic administrations?

The same dogged right-wing civil rights philosophy that Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights William Bradford Reynolds and Attorney General Edwin Meese III have espoused from the beginning of this administration. In case anyone doubts Meese's ideology, he reiterated it in a recent speech: "Counting by race is a form of racism. It elevates a perverted notion of equality and denies the original understanding of equality that is our national birthright." He further compared supporters of racial employment quotas to the Americans who once condoned slavery.

Despite the bizarre and perverted logic of that comparison, Meese also used quotas where federal law calls for goals and timetables.

Angry civil rights supporters who at first thought it was only goals and timetables that were this administration's pet peeves now realize that this argument was only a smoke screen to get rid of all preferential treatment based on race and sex.

The president says the national goal is equal employment opportunity.

But let's look at the progress toward that goal, even with the executive order in place: Unemployment rates among blacks and Hispanics are double the unemployment rates among whites. (In the District, 42 percent of discouraged workers are black males who have some college education or a college degree.) Across the board, wages are lower for women than men.

But this administration doesn't let facts stand in its way.

A majority of its Civil Rights Commission members have declared against all goals, timetables and quotas. And in just one program, the Department of Labor's Job Training Partnership Act, the Center for National Policy Review and a University of Chicago research team has pointed out that a reduced federal push has perhaps irrevocably weakened civil rights enforcement.

Although affirmative action has its imperfections, the Reagan administration's trickle-down philosophy is unrealistic and unjust. In trying to achieve by executive fiat what they could not achieve in the courts and the legislature, Reynolds and Meese evidently don't believe in the democratic process.