FRANCIS G. KNIGHT is resistingmandatory retirement (who's 72)with some of the same mighty vigor with which she has managed the U.S. Passport Office over the past 23 years. Her new superiors in the Carter administration, however, seem [WORD ILLEGIBLE] matters affecting Miss Knight, it is best to be a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] conditional-determined to restore her freedom to the effective control of the State-Department. So it may not be premature to bid her farewell.

Her principal achievement, without question, has been to conduct the Passport Office with an efficiency and courtesy earning it a reputation as one of the government's promoter service bureaucracies. Barely half a million Americans received passports in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] , the year she took over. This year the figure is expected to top three million. Miss Knight met and mastered this [WORD ILLEGIBLE] is demand in [WORD ILLEGIBLE] fashion. Think of the times you've heard people exclaim how easy and quick and pleasant it is to get a passport.

She will be remembered more permanently, if less fondly, for her tendency to regard a passport as an instrument of political control. Here it was important that she had been rendered - like her friend J. Edgar Hoover - something of an untouchable by her record for efficiency, by her supergrade status and by her weighty political connections and formidable political skills. She became the cutting edge of government policies - official policies, not ones of her own devising - restricting the travel rights of Communists and members of other parties prescribed by the Internal Security Act. The Supreme Court eventually cut the ground out from under these policies. Meanwhile, Miss Knight was becoming known for a readiness to offer the resources of the Passport Office to official investigators keeping tabs on traveling Americans who happened to disagree with their government's views on, say the Vietnam war.

One of the Carter administration's first decisions was to remove the need for Americans to seek special permission to travel to Vietnam, Cambodia, North Korea and Cuba. Miss Knight could not have been expected to be in sympathy with the spirit of that decision. Her replacement by a career diplomat, whose commitment to Mr. Carter's vision of an open world is presumably unequivocal, is as appropriate as it is overdue.