LAST MONTH the D.C. Council finally put some arrows in the quiver of the Office of Banking and Financial Institutions by passing emergency legislation finally making it possible for local regulators to enforce the banking mandate they have had since 1986. Unfortunately, that office is short of skilled archers. Because of understaffing and the lack of a permanent superintendent since Edward D. Irons quit last June, the banking office is getting off to a slow start. In addition to performing community reinvestment oversight of the seven Maryland and Virginia banks that merged with District institutions, the office now must review two new banks in formation and two trust companies that have been approved to operate in the District.

At the same time, the superintendent's office is collaborating with federal regulators and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of possibly illegal off-shore banking in the city. And of course there is the Latin Investment Corp. debacle, which brought to light the void in the city's banking regulatory system. The investigation of that bankrupt company, as well as the operations of two other companies suspected of offering banking services in the District without a banking charter, requires priority attention. Unlike a year ago, the superintendent now has the authority to audit firms, conduct investigations of banking law violations, issue subpoenas, conduct hearings and, where necessary, shut down unsafe banks. But also now -- unlike a year ago -- that office only has three professionals and two clerical staff to get the job done.

Developing and maintaining a local financial structure in which District residents and depositors can have confidence is no minor task. But neither should the Office of Banking and Financial Institutions' understaffing pose an insurmountable problem, even during a period of fiscal austerity. We have in mind the case of Carl R. Greene, the $47,000-a-year accountant with the Department of Finance and Revenue who complained about not having enough work. Why not offer lateral transfers or temporary duty assignments to the Office of Banking and Financial Institutions to workers like Mr. Greene who want to work but can't find suitable challenges where they are?