SOMEDAY, PERHAPS, there won't be any need for heavy-going federal rules and regulations defining how individuals and institutions must behave in relation to each other if they want to receive some form of federal aid. But that time is not exactly at hand, and so we have the great and growing body of decrees intended to eliminate traditional kinds of discrimination from our publicly financed enterprises.

The revised regulation concerning discrimination against the handicapped, which HEW Secretary Califano signed the other day, is the most recent addition to this body of fine-detailed rules. It has the same strengths and weaknesses that the civil-rights regulations that preceded to halt mindless, reflexive discrimination against handicapped people; but it also introduces and element of cumbersome coercoin into the affected relationships that is almost bound to be abused on occasion.

In fact, HEW has considerably improved the regulation, which two Secretaries declined to sign into law the first time around. The revisions make the rules clearer, more flexible and more susceptible to common sense and good judgment calls. And they also cut down substantially on the paperwork burden the first version would have imposed on those institutions - schools, businesses, etc. - that may come within the regulation's reach. But no one should doubt that the future holds a welter of lawsuits and quarrels over interpretation and that much in the regulation remains to be defined by this process.

As this process of refinement and definition goes forward, you can pretty well count on occasional explosions in Congress over what will be condemned as bureaucratic damned-foolishness in the making of these rules. But don't be misled: These rules, as now revised, were mandated by the legislation on the subject that Congress has enacted. And whatever burdens and bad scenes may occur as their practical meaning is worked out will not be something Congress can view as the handwork of an intrusive executive branch.

Still, we like to think that the positive values involved in the drive to end discrimination against the handicapped are what will prevail. There has been a tremendous vitality to the effort. It's end goal has been jobs, work, schooling, participation - in short, a fair crack at self-sufficiency. To the extent that the revised HEW regulation and the law from which it flows help make that possible, they will have done us all a great favor.