Robert Burford, a high-ranking Reagan appointee charged in September with driving while intoxicated, pleaded no contest to a reduced charge yesterday in Arlington County traffic court and was fined $50.

Also, Burford pleaded guilty to refusing to take a Breathalyzer test, which carries an automatic six-month suspension of his driver's license.

General District Judge Joseph Gwaltney accepted a plea bargain that amended the charge of driving while intoxicated to improper control of a vehicle. By pleading no contest, Burford did not admit guilt yet did not dispute the version of the facts presented by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John Wasowicz.

Gwaltney suspended $25 of the fine provided that Burford's driving record is clean for one year.

Arlington Commonwealth's Attorney Helen Fahey said the plea agreement was made "because we were going to have difficulty obtaining a conviction with the evidence we had . . . . We thought it would serve the community better if Mr. Burford got a six-month suspension of his license."

Burford, director of the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, was arrested Sept. 21 after a Virginia state trooper noticed his car stopped in the middle lane on I-395 southbound about 11 p.m. His wife, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Anne Burford, was charged about two hours later with being drunk in public.

An Arlington judge threw out the charge against Anne Burford in March, ruling that there was not enough evidence to convict her.