THERE MAY BE many Washington residents who do not know who Elijah B. Rogers is, but there is not one whom he hasn't touched in some way during the last four years in his capacity as operational chief of the District of Columbia government. Mr. Rogers has been city administrator, the No. 2 person in the executive branch; and he is leaving this job in May to join the Washington office of an international accounting firm. His departure, like his service in the District Building, is likely to be low-profile, but it means the loss of a pivotal figure in Mayor Barry's administration.

What Mr. Rogers brought to the Barry administration was professional, technical, administrative ability. Mr. Rogers has always been less concerned about the political ramifications of decisions-- though not at all unaware of them--and more committed to establishing new senses of order, timeliness and coordination across the sprawl of a city bureaucracy.

As a trained city manager, Mr. Rogers would agree that the District Building is hardly running like a Swiss watch. Most of us have our own war stories of unresponsive or buck-passing city agencies. Still, Mr. Rogers' insistence on establishing more professional standards--and his commitment to sound financial management procedures--not only resulted in significant operational changes, but served to keep Mayor Barry's administration attentive to complex matters with little or no popular or political benefits.

As Mayor Barry has noted, this takes a special personality, "an experienced and balanced understanding of the way in which an elected mayor and a professional city administrator should work together." In choosing a successor, Mayor Barry should look for this special blend of professional expertise in public administration and respect that transcends the political operatives who also encircle, advise--and often fail to dissent with--the chief executive.