THE CURRENT discussion about removing restraints on the CIA reminds me of the 1950s, when the talk was about unleashing Chiang Kai-shek and the image evoked was of an efficient military machine straining at its shackles, ready to leap across the Formosa Strait and devastate the Reds. The catch was that in prior engagements with the Communist armies, the generalissimo's forces had a batting average of around .150. The situation at the CIA is not unsimilar, only its average may be a bit lower. Recall its wrong predictions -- that the shah was secure in 1978, that Vietnam would not collapse in the spring of 1975, that war would not break out in the Middle East in the fall of 1973 -- and the grotesque mixture of evil and clownishness that characterized its assassination attempts. And think for a moment -- can you name even three major actions of the CIA that were both wise and effective?

There is always the argument that it's better to assassinate a Hitler than to fight a world war. That sounds persuasive, but my guess is that if we'd had the CIA in the '30s, it would have tried to assassinate not Hitler, but Tito, deGaulle and Count von Stauffenberg. By 1944, of course, when von Stauffenberg carried his bomb-filled briefcase into a meeting with Hitler, the CIA's parent agency, the OSS, was in action. Of this we can have no doubt. Who else would have moved the briefcase away from the Fuehrer the precise distance necessary to let him escape unharmed?

One of Jack Benny's classic lines was when the robber said "Your money or your life!" and Benny replied: "Hmmmm." That captures exactly my dilemma about the Democratic candidates. Kennedy's price controls and gas rationing might protect my money, but his opposition to the draft might endanger my life.

Pretend you are a governor. The time, last summer. You urge the people of your state to conserve gasoline. They believe you. They conserve. What is their reward, and what will be yours, when they find out that the Department of Energy has based this year's gasoline allocations on last year's consumption?

Last month I read that the General Services Administration had paid over $500,000 for office space in New York that has remained vacant since it was leased two years ago. An isolated incident, I thought. Then I picked up an issue of my hometown paper, The Charleston Gazette. On the front page was a story that the government spent $76,000 for office space in Charleston that had not been used for 16 months. Another West Virginia paper, the Huntington Herald Dispatch, has revealed that the GSA has paid $150,000 to rent a building it is not using there. Why are government employes so indifferent to waste? Because they have no incentive to save. There is a federal incentives award program, but 90 percent of its awards are for things like "skillful reorganization" that has nothing to do with saving money.

Conferences and conventions have become the number one growth industry of America today. Our favorite convention has to be the Notary Publics'. To appreciate its full attraction, you should realize that all the professional knowledge required of a notary can be communicated in somewhere between 15 and 30 minutees. Here is an excerpt from the conferenc brochure, titled, "The Notary Public in the 1980s":

"Come join us for the 2nd Annual National Notary Association Conference & Excursion -- May 15-23, 1980 -- whose backdrop will be exciting Miami Beach and the beautiful rum-and- sun-soaked Bahamas. Miami Beach also provides a unique opportunity to broaden your notarial and legal horizons . . . sharpen your professional skills . . . expose yourself to the newest procedures and practices of notarization . . . and have the time of your life doing it all . . .

"U.S. Treasury regulation #1162.5 permits an income tax deduction for education expenses (registration fees and cost of travel, meals and lodging) undertaken to: 1) maintain or improve skills required in one's employment or other trade or business, or 2) meet express requirements of an employer or a law imposed as a condition to retention of employment, job status or rate of compensation."

And if you spend your time soaking up more rum and sun than notarial wisdom, don't worry. "Every delegate to the Conference," the brochure continues "will receive a National Notary Association Certificate of Attendance signifying completion of all Notary workshops and other Conference activities."

Montreal has done what every city should do. It has reduced subway and bus fares in order to lure its people out of their cars. American cities should do the same, and part of their federal subsidies should be specifically earmarked for that purpose. Too much federal funding of cities and states goes to financing the explosive growth of their bureaucracies and is not tied to the delivery of needed services to the public. bA good place to start correcting this problem would be to make part of the federal subsidy to cities dependent on at least a trail reduction in local transit fares.

A recent report from Sacramento by Lou Cannon began, "Gov. Edmond G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. has been absent from this state capital for 96 of the past 100 days and the prevailing view here is that state government is running fine without him." If that suggests a state government can run without a leader, there is also impressive evidence that the federal government can run without subordinates. During the last two weeks of 1979 more than half the federal employs in Washington were away from their desks. The only difference in service noted by the local press was in a story alleging that because of excessive leave-taking, there were only 11 controllers monitoring air traffic in the vast area stretching from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania when there should have been a minimum of 18. Does this mean that not only are most federal employes not needed, but even those who are needed either don't realize it or don't care?

During the last year or so, Jack Anderson, unnoticed by anyone else, has been publishing government documents that show Henry Kissinger to have been the leading American villain in the OPEC price rise of 1973-74. The Saudis offered to oppose the rise, but Kissinger sided with his friend, the shah, who was its leading advocate. Of the many errors Kissinger made during the Nixon and Ford administrations, this was surely the most disastrous. Kissinger thought a stable Middle East would be the result of the oil-enriched shah's ability to buy arms. But "unstable" would have to be the mildest description of that area today -- and of course the rest of the world, and the United States in particular, is still reeling from the succession of OPEC price rises that the shah began. Why does the rest of the press continue to treat Kissinger with respect?

In the final returns from Maine, Carter led Kennedy by 7.8 percentage points. Yet the political reporters have treated this victory, if not as a downright defeat, as a disappointing showing. A couple of months ago these same reporters were predicting that Kennedy would sweep New England. Why, then, did they not deem decisive a Carter victory by any margin, much less by almost 8 percent? My guess is that it is because they view political campaigns the same way I watch football games. Unless the Redskins are involve, I root for the team that is behind -- until it moves ahead, that is. Then I give my support to the other team, switching sides thereafter as often as the lead charges. The reason for my deplorable lack of constancy is that, above all else, I want the game to be interesting. And that is just what I think reporters want from a political campaign. Their change of bias is, I'm sure, less calculated than mine, but the result is the same. When it seemed that Kennedy would blow Carter out of the park, they became sympathetic to the president, and when Carter won in Iowa, they were ready to discover that Kennedy was reborn.