NAMES AND INITIALS of government agencies come and go with the seasons in this town, but an irreverent pause is in order to observe the passing into bureaucratic heaven -- or somewhere -- of the District Government's largest agency, the Department of Human Resources. For to much of its misadministered life, DHR made headlines not for how it was serving the people who need the most help in this city, but for what it wasn't accomplishing, and for all the lame excuses issued during what are remembered unfondly as the Yeldell years.

Now, in what is supposed to be more than a cosmetic move, the name has been changed to Department of Human Services. The number of managers reporting to the director has been reduced and Mayor Barry has named a new person to head the agency: James A. Buford, who has been regional director of the U.S. Public Health Services in Dallas. Mr. Buford comes highly recommended, after an impressive job of upgrading St. Elizabeths Hospital here when Joseph Califano was secretary of health, education and welfare.

As Mr. Buford steps in, his predecessor, Albert Russo, is leaving city hall after a lifetime of dedicated public service. Mr. Russo, who spent the last four years tirelessly reshaping the troulbed DHR, has been one of the most loyal, popular and hard-working administrators in city government. His concern for the people his department served was genuine and unflagging; and his acceptance of responsiblity -- and blame -- for the department's struggles to improve was refreshingly honest. For his part, Mr. Buford says he was "looking for a challenge" -- and certainly Mr. Russo can attest to the fact that this will be one.