I read with great interest the op-ed piece by former deputy solicitors general Andrew L. Frey and Kenneth S. Geller, concerning the offices of independent counsel {Feb. 14}. Based on my past experience with the Department of Justice and my recent experience with the day-to-day operations of the independent counsel investigations of Franklin C. Nofziger and Attorney General Edwin Meese III by Independent Counsel James C. McKay, I feel compelled to respond that these able lawyers are far from the mark in their statement of the facts.

Messrs. Frey and Geller characterize the offices of independent counsel as "unaccountable" institutions "outside the executive branch" with a "disturbing amount of power" to exercise prosecutorial discretion answerable "neither to other public officials nor to the electorate." They fail to state that the law provides that an independent counsel is removable by the attorney general of the United States for good cause. Moreover, both Mr. McKay and Judge Walsh received parallel appointments by the Department of Justice that should foreclose claims that they are entirely unaccountable. The statute governing independent counsels also specifically requires them to report their activities to Congress and to the Special Division of the U.S. Court of Appeals, which appoint the independent counsel. These reports are to set forth the work of the independent counsel and the "reasons for not prosecuting any matters within the prosecutorial jurisdiction" of the independent counsel. The reports of independent counsel may be, and have been, made public.

In addition to these statutory requirements, in its practical operations, Mr. McKay's office has also been accountable to the grand jury, the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Special Division for the Appointment of Independent Counsels and the U.S. District Court and petit jury that tried and convicted Mr. Nofziger. This office has also responded to numerous inquiries from Congress and innumerable queries from the press. Very few of the 95 U.S. attorneys who wield comparable prosecutorial power are subject to the degree of scrutiny, dissection and analysis to which the offices of independent counsel have been (appropriately) subjected.

Messrs. Frey and Geller suggest that the offices of independent counsel tend to produce "a dogged and single-minded inquest that may exhibit insufficient regard for the prospective policies ordinarily followed by the Department of Justice . . ." As acknowledged by the authors, however, the independent counsel statute provides that they "shall comply with the written or other established policies of the Department of Justice respecting the enforcement of the criminal laws." Messrs. Frey and Geller cite no instance when these guidelines have not been followed by an independent counsel. In contrast, during my tenure at the Department of Justice, I was aware of any number of instances when U.S. attorneys failed to adhere to these guidelines, unchecked by public opinion, the courts or the Department of Justice.

More significantly, critics of the offices of independent counsel are evidently unaware of the efforts of Mr. McKay's office to ensure conformity and consistency within established principles of justice with the broadest possible framework of experienced, informed prosecutorial judgment. Mr. McKay's goal has always been to strive for the just, evenhanded and effective administration of justice.

To achieve that goal, he appointed a staff of able lawyers that has included individuals with extensive prosecutorial experience. For investigative support, he has relied exclusively upon skilled professionals from the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Perhaps most important, Mr. McKay has frequently exercised his authority, wisely provided for in the independent counsel statute, to request assistance from the Department of Justice. Whenever he found it useful, he asked for and received the advice and assistance of the Criminal Division, including the public integrity section, the internal security section, the fraud section and the office of international affairs. In addition, he has sought the counsel and assistance of the office of legal counsel, the justice management division, especially the security office, the office of public affairs, the executive office of the U.S. attorneys and the Office of Solicitor General.

Specifically, the theory and substance of the indictment of Mr. Nofziger and his partner were painstakingly reviewed with the public integrity section's expert on the conflict-of-interest laws. Many of the investigative steps taken in the Nofziger and Meese investigations have been pursued with the assistance of the career professionals within the Department of Justice. In each instance, Mr. McKay has exercised his independent judgment on the final course of action, but his decisions have been fully informed and counseled by some of the most broadly experienced professional prosecuting personnel available.

This office has also sought to ensure the effective enforcement of the law by working hand-in-hand with the U.S. attorneys in the southern district of New York, the northern district of California, Maryland, the District of Columbia and elsewhere whenever there has been a mutual law enforcement interest.

Finally, with respect to the writers' concern that the offices of independent counsel are "Lone Rangers" operating "outside the executive branch" in disregard of "the administrative, national security, diplomatic and other considerations that would normally shape a federal criminal investigation," this office has felt quite comfortable operating as a full partner of its sister agencies within the executive branch. Pursuant to his statutory duties and obligation to the public interest, the independent counsel, like all prosecutors, must rigorously investigate whenever there is any reasonable grounds to believe that a prosecution of a high government official may be warranted. Nevertheless, when matters related to national security and foreign affairs arose during the course of Mr. McKay's investigation, he immediately informed the Department of State and requested its advice and counsel concerning classification issues and other matters. When it became apparent that unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information was to be published in the media, the Office of Independent Counsel did not hesitate to inform the president.

The need for some form of independent prosecutor in certain circumstances is no longer a matter of serious debate, although the concept of the office of independent counsel can undoubtedly be improved. Nevertheless, the actual performance of the current independent counsel should be the measure of this institution, rather than abstract analysis. The final record of the offices of independent counsel under the current statute will reflect that this institution can responsibly pursue an investigation with due regard for all the competing interests of the executive branch and the public interest in the vigorous but fair pursuit of justice. To borrow from the wise, "The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience." -- Justice Holmes.

The writer is deputy independent counsel under James C. McKay, who is handling the Meese and Nofziger investigations.