WHEN IT comes to making use of federal resources in the city's assault on illicit drugs, officials of the District government have been surprisingly lethargic in at least two respects. More than 17 months ago, national drug policy director William Bennett unveiled a plan to assist the D.C. government that included funds for three new drug treatment facilities and money to build a new jail.

The latter was to be located somewhere outside Washington, but the strident objections of suburban and regional officials was predictable and should have been anticipated. Federal officials next suggested -- nearly one year ago -- two sites within the city, on the grounds of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast or near Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. But D.C. officials, including former city drug czar Sterling Tucker, would have none of that, stating that both sites were slated for other uses.

The fact that a site has still not been chosen for a federally funded jail that this city desperately needs is ridiculous. Moreover, those drug treatment facilities could have been opened by now, but no agreement has been reached on where to locate them. Fortunately, the federal government has extended its deadlines, and the funding is still available.

This entire affair has been typical of the worst aspects of the waning days of Mayor Marion Barry's administration. It takes a focused chief executive to move this cumbersome and overly large city government, and the city has lacked that kind of crucial leadership for at least the past year.

Now we're told that the D.C. government and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons are finally considering three privately owned locations inside the city for the new jail, and that federal officials and the District are reviewing potential sites for the drug treatment centers. It's about time.

The District government should commit itself to the task of completing site selections for these facilities within the next few months. This is not a task that should be left up to the next administration. Groundbreaking should begin before the new mayor takes office in January.