FROM THE beginning of the Reagan administration, little has been heard from the Department of Labor. Except on certain matters arising from his confirmation hearings, the secretary of labor, Raymond J. Donovan, has not seemed to have much to say on current issues. Wishing to correct the impression that he has locked the door and turned out the lights at the department, Mr. Donovan sends a letter that we are happy to publish on this page today. He denies that he is isolated from the realities of the labor market. That is a very welcome reassurance. We look forward to seeing evidence of it at the Labor Department.

What should the department be doing? With 12 million people out of work, it is not impossible to think of useful contributions. Even staying within the limits of tradition, the department might do much more of value in retraining, and helping people through the transitions from declining industries to those of greater promise. A strongly led department might well want to go a bit further and consider the implications of the decline, probably irreversible, in jobs in the steel and automobile plants. An economic recovery will help the industrial Midwest immensely, but the modest recovery in prospect is not likely to return those cities to anything like their prosperity of a decade ago. Has the Labor Department any suggestions to offer?

Mr. Donovan is right to mention the recent jobs- training legislation as a step in the right direction. There is a difference of opinion between Mr. Donovan and ourselves as to whether the department's efforts helped or hindered the progress of the bill, but let that pass. What does Mr. Donovan propose next? He will agree, surely, that there is more to be done.

On that subject, it is good to have Mr. Donovan's assurances that he does not intend to curtail the department's extremely important responsibilities in research and data analysis. But it is true, unfortunately, that his department has just cut off a study of the results of a youth employment program after it had run four years at the considerable cost of $280 million. The research was abrogated, apparently, to save money. In view of Mr. Donovan's letter, and the regard for research that he expresses there, will he now reinstate that study of the employment of young people?