NO DOUBT in response to the past murky leasing practices in the city's Department of Human Resources, the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia had recommended that the city's 20-year leasing authority be abolished. Instead, it would have the city seek approval from both the House and Senate appropriations committees each time it wants to negotiate a lease of five years or longer.

The trouble with this that it would effectively remove the city from participating in its own economic-development plans. Very few projects, after all, ever get under way on a five-year rental agreement; they usually require a much longer leasing commitment in order to ensure that the developers will get a predictable income. At a time when the business community is searching for evidence that the District government is serious about economic development, it is not very helpful to eliminate one of the few incentives the city has to offer - that of participating in leasing arrangements.

This will be especially important as the examination of how best to develop the downtown area gets under way, since a number of private investments may hinge on the city's leasing of office space. While the city may not choose to commit itself to leasing space in the downtown area at this point, it should have the opportunity to examine that possibility in a careful and deliberate manner, leaving aside the political considerations that the committee seems willing to impose.

We agree that the city should not continue to abuse its leasing authority. But the recommendation to limit all leasing agreements to five years or less is unreasonable. The District should not have to appeal to the Congress every time it wants to enter into a new leasing agreement of length. The best way for the subcommittee to help clean up the mess would be for it to require much stricter review by the District government of leasing practices as a whole.