LONG BEFORE Joseph P. Yeldell was removed as director of the city's Department of Human Resources, members of the city council rightly sensed that this huge, inefficient agency needed to be reorganized. After Mayor Washington finally did detail Mr. Yeldell to other duties, Council Chairman Sterling Tucker announced plans for a task force to study DHR and recommend structural changes. The mayor then upstaged the council by forming his own panel of experts to take a "fresh, brand new look at DHR." That prompted some critics in the legislative branch to suggest that he had acted hastily, which might give Walter Washington cause to wonder how he can win in this town. For our parts, we're delighted to see the mayor erring on the side of making haste, especially when the timely action he has taken makes so much sense.

The mayor's panel is made up of social service officials, planners and academic experts - all from outside the District government. It will be headed by Philip J. Rutledge, who was in charge of creating DHR here seven years ago and who headed the agency before Mr. Yeldell took office in 1971. Mayor Washington says to group will study the structures of 27 human resources agencies around the country for ideas. Mr. Rutledge and others on the 32-member panel (who will serve without pay) have maintained many useful affiliations with public administration and human resources orginizations here. Mr. Rutledge also is president of the National Institute of Public Management, a research center that will donate staff and other supports services to the project.

Mr. Tucker, to his credit, was quick to state that he does not view the mayor's move as being in conflict with council plans. Rather, he said, he welcomes the step as part of a concerted effort to do something about DHR. In this spirit, the council also intends to seek experts to examine various ways to reshape the department. Mr. Tucker has already said he is determined to reduce DHR's size, which is essential, in our view. Mr. Rutledge, too, says he intends to re-examine the "imperatives" of reducing costs, increasing efficiency and "gaining control of a runaway bureaucracy."

Beyond that, the recommendations of the two branches of government may differ. For example, the council has been interested in detaching most if not all of the city's health services from DHR. Mr. Rutledge sees no particular magic in that approach. Already, though, the council has passed a good bill that would remove D.C. General Hospital from DHR's control. This week, citing a number of obscure reasons for keeping the still-unaccredited hospital enmeshed in DHR, Mayor Washington vetoed the bill. Fortunately, the council appears to have the votes to override - and it should do so.

It may well trun out that the city's other health services should remain in a reorganized DHR. But the great weight of expertise is on the side of freeing the hospital from the department's bureaucratic clutches. Indeed, a task force appointed by Mayor Washington more tahn six years ago recommended creation of a public hospital authority to formulate all policy and oversee operations at D.C. General. With the hospital under a separate mangement and with Mr. Yeldell removed from DHR - for good, we trust - the mayor and city council would enjoy a solid start on their reorganization efforts.