If education is our best bet to stop the spread of AIDS, why is the government trying to shelve its most candid and informative booklet on the subject?

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's detailed booklet on the disease has won much praise since he published it a year ago. Yet, members of Congress who want to pass the book along to the millions of people back home have had to wait as long as six months to get copies from the distributor, the Department of Health and Human Services.

Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who represents part of the San Francisco Bay area, first asked for copies of Koop's book last July. She got them in December. Other representatives have had similar delays.

Boxer thinks the holdup is the fault of White House conservatives and Health and Human Services officials who consider Koop's book too candid. "They do not like that booklet. It is too explicit and too direct," Boxer said. "We only have one vaccine for AIDS and that vaccine is education."

Boxer has asked the General Accounting Office to look into the situation.

Our associate Stewart Harris asked the Department of Health and Human Services about the delays. A spokesman said the biggest problem was with contractors who handle printing for the Government Printing Office. Only about 250,000 copies can be printed in a week, according to Health and Human Services.

But we found that the glitch is not in the printing. Rather, the printing office did not receive a single order from Health and Human Services during June and the first three weeks of July. When the printers finally did get orders, they turned them around in as little as three days. The longest the printing office took to deliver Koop's 36-page book after receiving an order was 30 days. Sometimes the printing office expedited the delivery by sending out partial orders while the remainder was still being printed.

To date, the Department of Health and Human Services has made 14 different orders for the pamphlet. Last spring and early summer, as the requests from Congress were piling up, HHS had ordered just a little more than 3 million copies.

It was not until Aug. 8, well after most representatives had asked for copies, that the printing office received its biggest order, a request for 6.7 million copies of Koop's report.

The first copies rolled off the presses three days later, and all of them had been printed by the end of September.

Unfortunately for Koop's pamphlet, the political wheel of fortune has never turned as easily. Right-wing opposition to the report is widespread. Many conservatives don't like Koop's frank, common-sense approach to AIDS prevention. He openly advocates the use of condoms.

Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, one of the most conservative members of President Reagan's Cabinet, has gone so far as to put out his own booklet, which urges minors to abstain from sex. Bennett's pamphlet advocates "sexuality in the context of marriage."