The folder of this year's clippings on Joseph A. Califano Jr. is nearly two inches thick already - substantially thicker than the file on any other member of Jimmy Carter's Cabinet.

The articles in that file cover a staggering range of subjects - the product of staggering energy (Califano's) and staggering problems (the normal fare of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare that he heads): immunization of children reorganization of the HEW bureaucracy, welfare reform, radically new regulations to help the handicapped, hospital cost controls, new forms of financing for Social Security.

After four months of all this, Califano ought to be showing signs of wear, but he isn't.

In fact, no one would notice the only sign of physical consequences of these four months unless Califano talked about it - which he does. He has gone on a diet, because he doesn't like the double chin he has seen in pictures of himself in the paper.

Has he made mistakes in his new job? The question discomforts Joe Califano, and he pauses before answering it. Yes, he finally admits: "Carter and I both instinctively want to do too much too fast," he says. "We don't complement each other in that way; we're both roaring down the same railroad track."

A lot of people in Washington would agree. They are members of Califano's four constituencies, the HEW bureaucracy, the groups that represent the poor and disabled citizens it serves, the Congress and the White House staff. Joe Califano has engaged them all in these four months - and angered a great many of them, too.

Califano is the busiest and most visible member of the Carter Cabinet, and also the most controversial.He actually likes to make decisions - some associates fear he likes that too much - and every decision is likely to make somebody mad.

There is more to the anger than that, however. HEW's traditional constituencies have been waiting for a Democratic administration for eight years. Jimmy Carter's campaign rhetoric - so sympathetic to the very people HEW serves - intensified their anticipation. Many expected a new dawn of social concern. Instead they are hearing a lot about a balanced federal budget.

"We thought the Democrats won the election," said one congressional aide. "It's the same old ball game," said a lawyer who represents welfare recipients.

The appointment of Califano to HEW also encouraged expectations. After all, he helped write many of the social welfare programs the department administer aide. He was Lyndon B. Johnson's principal aide for domestic policy, and the Johnson years are the fond yesterdays that many HEW constituents like to remember.

So Califano came into office with a comfortable account of political capital. He was popular on the Hill and widely admired. Many HEW bureaucrats and high hopes that he would help their department regain staturein the government.

In these few hectic months Califano has spent a lot of their capital. Numerous sources in his department, on Capitol Hill and in the constituent organizations feel he has spent it recklessly. The problem is largely one of style.

One senior member of Congress important to HEW said he is puzzled by Califano's apparent suspiciousness of others. The secretary misled him about appointments in HEW, the congressman said, and has consulted him inadequately on many matters. "I had one hour's notice" of Califano's sweeping internal reorganization of HEW, this congressman said. Many others on Capitol Hill tell similar stories.

"He likes to mess around in things without really knowing what he is doing," said an offical of HEW who has served near the secretaries in the last administration and in this one. This man - sympathetic to Califano's objectives - said Califano is losing credibility with the agency's employees by acting as though he could alter vast programs and bureaucracies merely by issuing memorandums.

Wilbur Cohen, Johnson's last secretary of HEW and a self-styled "HEW watcher," said Califano had erred by dismissing many senior officials in the health field as soon as he took office.

"He kind of dismissed them precipitously when he didn't have substitutes for them," Cohen observed. This was bad for morale at lower levels, he added.

Officials of the constituencies - children's lobbies welfare recipients' groups and the like - speak most critically of the new secretary. Califano's appointments - or lack of appointments - have especially aggravated them.

"I'm not convinced that all the care and thoughtfulness that we expected has been displayed" in the appointments process, said Prof. Edware Ziegler of Yale, the first director of HEW's office of child development. Marion Wright Edelman, director of the Children's Defense Fund, wrote a letter to Califano strongly protesting his choice of a new director of the child development office. Blandina Cardenos, and expressing "strong disappointment . . . with HEW's consultative process . . ."

Califano's most controversial appointments are those of Cardenas and her boss, Arabella Martinez, who is assistant secretary for human development. Both these young Hispanic women have only slight experience in the areas for which they are now responsible, and many in the HEW constituences have blasted them as totally unsuitable. Califano defends them as unusual and interesting choices).

Michael B. Trister, a lawyer who works for welfare recipients, described Califano as a "manipulator" who isn't really interested in the opinions of outsiders or in substantive consultations with the recipients of HEW services.

What is the meaning of all this criticism? An outsider finds it difficult to judge. All of Califano's critics have special interests - sometimes narrow ones - in the way he does his job. Califano himself said of the department's organized client groups, "they were not well served for many years and would like us to do everything for them right away."

But Califano also said he was surprised when a reporter described some of these critcisms of his performance.

One reason for this is the secretary's personal belief that one of his constituents is vastly more important than all the others - President Carter. He thinks his relationship with Carter is good. "It has a remarkable impact." Califano said, when you sit with the President of the United States and he says, "I trust you."

Califano and his associates also believe that they must take bold steps to shake up the department, and that these steps will inevitable provoke criticism. His under secretary, Hale Champion, said recently, "There's no way to run the department by consensus." Champion's formula for success is "aggressive management."

A lot of HEW officials don't want to be managed, Champion added.

Despite his difficulties, Califano remains ebullient. His friends report that he is in a good mood - not least because he feels he enjoys Carter's confidence. "He's a survivor," as one old Washington hand put it: "None of his mistakes have been fatal," added a senior aide on Capitol Hill.

Survival cannot be easy [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the tasks that face HEW. "All the social problems are here," Califano says - adding that he finds it [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to try to cope with them. His goal, he says, is to "demonstrate that social programs can be run efficiently as well as compassionately and are worth the taxpayers' money."

Thus far, Califano's[WORD ILLEGIBLE] has been to act, act, act. "He wanted to show Carter and [Hamilton] Jordan and those people that he was in control," Wilbur Colien said. "He wanted to show his leadership.

His eagerness to act has caught some career emplyees of HEW by surprises. When they realised that Califano was liable to make a decision on the basis of the first description of a problem that reached his desk, they began writing more detailed initial memorandums, according to one source.

Accounts of two specific actions suggest why they have provoked some criticisms:

Departmental reorganization. Half a dozen people plotted and executed the mammoth reorganization of the department without consulting outsiders or hinting at what they would eventually do. Their final proposal called for a radical realignment of department activities, the abolition of one large office, and a basic change in the organization of health activities.

Asked about the secrecy of this procedure, Califano said, "I don't think we could have done it any other way."

Congressional critics say the secrecy precluded HEW officials themselves from understanding what was going on. Several members of Congress were angered to discover that senior officials could not explain the functions consequences of the reorganization.

A civil servant high in the department said Califano had and still has inrealistic expectations for reoganization. It will take at least a year to put into effect," this source said; Califano has predicted that it would take a few months.

Creation of a new Health Care Financing Administration to run both Medicaid and Medicare creates a new unit much larger and more important than the Public Health Service, and sharply reduces the domain of the assistant secretary of health. This is one reason why Califano's first appointee to that job, Dr. Christopher Fordham III, decided after a month that he didn't want it.

A key member of Congress intimately involved in HEW matters called the reorganization "a P.R. job, not substance." But Wilbur Cohen - one of the few outsiders consulted on it - liked the reorganization. "It was a precipitate but wise thing to do to get hold of the reins," he said.

Regulations to help the handicapped. Califano's predecessor, David Mathews, ducked an opportunity to issue regulations mandated by Congress instructing all institutions receiving federal aid to take measures to help handicapped people and prevent discrimination against them.

Several outsiders counseled Califano to sign these regulations soon after taking office, but he held them for futher study. This set off howls of outrage from militant groups representing the handicapped. Some of them demonstrated outside Califano's Cleveland Park home.

In late April Califano signed the regulations, slightly modified from the version Mathews refused to sign. He has called this is most difficult decision as secretary because of the magnitude. The regulations will cost billions to put into effect.

"He made a terrible mistake in conveying the impression that he was trying to back out on the agreement made in the last administration" with the handicapped lobby, according to one key congressional source.

Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Harrison A. Williams Jr. (D-N.J.) both pressured Califano to sign the regulations, as did many others. "I think he stubbed his toe in having to have so much pressure put on him," one congressional source said.

Califano's utterly unfair - that he signed the regulations, after all, something his predecessor wouldn't do. The critics retort that the way he did it raised suspicions that will linger.

It is early to draw any conclusions about Califano's tenure at HEW. One senior official there said the secretary was acting as though he would only stay for 18 months - "acting like a man who wants to make splashy recommendations, then leave."

In fact Califano acknowledges that he hasn't had time yet to pay much attention to implementation of HEW programs. The first four months have been flashy, not least because Jimmy Carter promised they would be.

Several Califano sympathizers said in interivews that concentrating on his early problems would be a mistake. They grant the unfortunate consequences of the flap over his hiring of a chef, or his well-publicized feud with some political aides in the White House, or his uneasy steps in congressional relations. The important question, they say, is his ultimate effectiveness in managing HEW and improving the lot of the country's needy citizens.

Perhaps the most significant test of that so far was the first round of the Carter administration's attempt to reform the national welfare system. Califano lost that first round, in the sense that Carter rejected the thrust of his recommendations in favor of ideas advance by Ray Marshall, the Secretary of Labor. (Marshall favored more emphasis on guaranteed jobs for welfare recipients.)

Califano said last week that he will continue to argue his case, and said he thought the shape of the final welfare package is still to be decided. Then it will have to be drafted, fought throught Congress, implemented . .

In other words, Califano has barely begun what he happily refers to as the greatest job in government."