THE ARMY is now investigating allegations that recruiters have doctored criminal and school records and stolen copies of military admissions tests in order to fill recruiting quotas. As a result, it is reported, overweight people and epileptics and others unfit have been admitted to the Army. So far, 319 recruiters and five officers have been relieved of duty as a result of the investigation's findings.

By itself, this would be a minor scandal. But the charges and publicity inevitably lead to the question of whether the volunteer army is working. Questions about the strength and practicality of the volunteer army are central to the brief of those who wish to reinstate the draft. The scandal looks even more consequential because it comes on the heels of news that all four armed services failed to meet recruitment goals for the first time in fiscal year 1978. They were 14,000 short of the goal of 158,700. In addition, the scandal could be seen to carry more weight because standards for recruits are being lowered. Last month, the educational requirement (10th grade) for all Army recruits was dropped.

According to recruiters, the heart of the scandal lies in their unreasonably large monthly quotas. They contend that recruiting for the new army means standing on street corners, in some cases, and playing nursemaid to young men who won't wake up or show up for tests or interviews. Recruiters who fail to meet their quotas, in some offices, are berated. Not meeting quotas and being transferred also can mean a loss of the extra pay, as much as$150, that recruiters receive.

The recruitment scandal isn't proof that the volunteer army doesn't work. But it certainly is a signal of trouble. It suggests, first, the urgency of revising recruiting procedures by, for instance, rotating recruiting assignments among many soldiers to reduce the pressure to cut corners often felt by recruiters on full-time duty. Then, there may be a need to offer higher incentives to recruits, in the way a private company offers better wages to obtain better quality employees. A third avenue is to make sure that recruiting ads and other sales pitches do not promise more in, say, training and travel than can be delivered: that could reduce some of the later disillusionment, which filters back and affects other would-be recruits. Finally, it is important to offer better pay and housing allowances to keep the people the services already have. As a volunteer force, the armed services now have to compete with private industry for skilled labor. It would often be less costly to pay skilled people more to retain them than to recruit and train replacements.

A seante Armed Services subcommittee begins hearings on military recruiting practices on Monday. But it should take neither congressional grilling nor another scandal for the army to take the recruiting situation into hand.