I needed to call the District's Vital Records agency. I looked in the blue pages under District government for "Vital Records." Not there. "Birth Certificates"? Not there, either. Maybe under "Health Department." That says, "See Clinics." Under "Clinics," there is "Venereal Disease," but no "Vital Statistics." Eventually I found the bold heading "Human Services Department of -- -- ." I scan down the column. About halfway down, there it is: "Vital Records Branch." It is under the Human Services subheading "Inspection and Compliance Office of -- -- " and the sub-subheading "Policy and Planning Office of -- -- ."

If you get past the busy signal, a recording tells you to listen to the following recording. The next recording, with the information on obtaining birth certificates, has low volume and an indistinct speaker.

Why was this call necessary? Because the District does not routinely provide birth certificates for children born there. New parents, before leaving the hospital, fill out a detailed form for Vital Records, but must make a separate request (and pay $5) for a copy of the birth certificate.

Every child inevitably needs a birth certificate. Some children may not need one until they enroll in school. Many need one almost from the start of life so they can get Social Security numbers. (Social Security numbers are needed to open that first savings account at a bank or to file that first tax return, which millions more children will have to file next year because of the 1986 tax "reform.") Yet this universal requirement becomes a universal hassle.

At least our newborn son has 16 years before he has to stand in line for a driver's license. NEIL SKENE Bethesda