CIVIL RIGHTS advocates have apparently given up on the Civil Rights Commission and disagree only on how little should be appropriated for the agency. Some groups have even suggested that the Treasury save the money and abolish the CRC altogether. This is probably due to the sharp philosophical disagreement between traditional civil rights lobbyists and those now leading the panel, most of whom have been appointed by President Reagan. Or it may simply reflect the fact that the commission, whose work was so vitally needed and so widely supported in the late '50s and early '60s, no longer seems to be fulfilling a function.

Another important executive agency charged with civil rights enforcement -- the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education -- has been hamstrung since 1984, when the Supreme Court sharply limited the scope of the law prohibiting discrimination by recipients of federal funds. Because Congress has not yet acted to overturn that ruling by legislation, OCR -- even if its leaders were willing to act aggressively -- has been unable to move against many kinds of discrimination that had been its responsibility before.

But things are markedly different at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency created in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and charged with rooting out employment discrimination. Here, the caseload is expanding and budget requests are increasing. Under the quiet but persistent leadership of Chairman Clarence Thomas, the number of cases processed has gone from 50,935 in fiscal 1982 to 66,305 last year. In the same time period, legal actions filed went from 241 to 526. To handle this much larger caseload and higher litigation level, this year's budget request was a record $193,457,000. That's one-third more than was spent at the beginning of this administration and $28,457,000 over last year.

Domestic budget requests, even for meritorious programs such as this, are being cut with a vengeance, and the request for the EEOC is no exception. The House did vote a $13 million boost, and the commission has asked the Senate to restore the full amount requested. Whether that is possible, given other budget constraints, is uncertain. But legislators who care about civil rights enforcements have a special obligation to sustain an agency doing this work and enjoying, to an unusual degree in these times, the support and encouragement of the administratio