IT LOOKS AS THOUGH President Carter has taken a large and impressive step toward redeeming one of his most important campaign pleges. We have in mind the House's overhelming vote on Wednesday in favor of the administration's civil-service reform-or of a version of it, anyway, that preserves most of the original Carter bill's strengths and is also withing fairly easy compromising distance of the version passed by Senate.

We note with absolute satisfaction that our own early anxieties that Mr. Carter might not prove as adept at getting the bill enacted as he had been at getting it drawn up were not fulfilled. This was a very successful lobbying effort in behalf of a very controversial and consequential measure. It would have been difficult for any admininstration, never mind how skilled and practiced, to bring off; and the president and his associates-in particular, the tireless Civil Service Commisioner, Alan K. Campbell-deserve to have the magnitude of their achievement recognized.

We share with the administration one large dissapointment concerning the bill. It is that the overdue provisions bringing sense and justice to the civil-service treatment of veterans were eliminated. The result is that the same old obsolete and unfair system of preferences will be retained. This, as we have argued (and will continue to argue until something is done about it), weights the scales heavily in favor of military veterans to whom society long ago discharged its obligations; and it does so at the expense not just of women and minorities, but also of the Vietnam veterans whose treatment-or, more properly; neglect-by the Congress is a genuine national disgrace. We can thank of no subject the administration should be more insistent about than this one. We hope they come back to Congress again and again with it until something is done to remedy the unfairness.

Some of the provisions that did get passed by the House and Senate are, of course, less than perfect-problematical, difficult and of uncertain impact.The provisions protecting so-called "whistle-blowers" are among these, and so are the various steps intended to define who can be fired and for what and on what evidence. Still, however these things are worked out in conference, and even without the very desirable veterans-preference change, it can be said that both bodies of Congress have passed civil-service legislation of enormous consequence and that they could bring about near-revoluntionary change in the culture of government bureaucracy.

The Carter legislation, the first major alternation of the civil-service statues in nearly a century, would make it possible to introduce such elements of managements as sanctions, incentives and a genuine merit system into the gluey world of the government worker. It would not so much punish or limit the truly dedicated bureaucrat as liberate him, in our judgement. That the president was able to push his scheme through in less than a year's time and to retain so much of his original proposal is just this side of miraclous. In view of the administration's reputation for mortally clumsy dealings with Congress, this simple fact should be duly noted.