A 44-year-old former U.S. government housing official, apparently depressed over his recent dismissal, opened fire on a policeman in front of D.C. police headquarters early yesterday and was then shot and critically wounded in a wild shootout with other officers.

Scores of surprised employees going to work at 7 p.m. in the building at 300 Indiana Ave. NW, dived for cover as a large, burly man jumped from a car and began firing with a nickelplated revolver at a police officer who was about to cross Indiana Avenue, authorities said.

The officer returned the fire. At the same moment, two detectives coming out of headquarters spotted the man and drew their guns. The man fell in a hail of bullets and crawled under his car in the middle of the street, police said.

He was dragged out, then taken to George Washington University Hospital with four bullet wounds in the chest, shoulder, hip and arm, police said. He was still listed in critical condition last night.

Police identified the man as James W. Lowe, of 753-A Delaware Ave, SW. Until recently a special assistant to Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Chester McGuire, Lowe had been a worker in President Carter's election campaign last year [WORD ILLEGIBLE] was a member of the Carter-Monday transition team just before his appointment by Carter to the $30,000 [WORD ILLEGIBLE] job at HUD.

Lowe was fired from his job on October because of a "poor work record," [WORD ILLEGIBLE] to homicide detectives. Neighbors on Delaware Avenue described Lowe as apparently depressed in recent days and said his personal appearance had deteriorated.

Several hours prior to the shootout at police headquarters, authorities said a man similar in appearance to Lowe with a revolver confronted guards at Children's Hospital, the Rentagon and FBI headquarters. In each case, they said, he fled in a blue car, and no shots were fired.

D.C. police gave this description of shootout at police headquarters:

At about 7 a.m., Police Sgt. Gary Raymond DiLallo had just parked his car and was about to cross to the south side of Indiana Avenue to go to work when a man jumped from a blue car at the cross-walk, pulled a nickel-plated, .38-caliber revlover and said, I'm going to kill you."

He fired at least two shots at DiLallo from about 15 feet. DiLallo ducked and returned the fire. The man ran to the other side of his car, using it as a shield from DiLallo's fire. At that moment, two D.C. police detectives, Douglas Shelton Davis and John R. Walsh came out of separate revolving-door exits from police headquarters and saw the man, with his back to them, firing at DiLallo.

Davis shouted, "Drop your gun." The man did not heed the order. Both Davis and Walsh fired at him and he fell to the ground. A total af at least nine shots were exchanged, including three by DiLallo and two each by Davis and Walsh.

This six-story police headquarters building, known as the Municipal Center, also houses offices of the city's transportation and finance and revenue departments. Dozens of employees of these agencies were entering the building as the shootout suddenly exploded.

Police officials said they could not recall a similar incident at police headquarters in recent history.

Police speculated that Lowe was depressed because of his dismissal from HUD. He has not yet been charged with any offense, a policy applied by police when a person is in critical condition in a hospital.

Residents on Delaware Avenue described Lowe as a friendly neighbor who apparently lived alone in a town-house. Last Feb. 21, just after a Carter's inauguration, Lowe was given a temporary 90-day appointment as special assistant to McGure, assistant HUD secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity. The temporary appointment was extended once and then made permenent on June 19, according to a HUD spokesman.

Lowe was terminated Oct. 28, however, the spokesman said, "in view of information in a full field investigation (of Lowe's background) by the Civil Service Commission and other factor." the spokesman would not give details, citing and confidentiality of personnel records.

Police said Lowe was fired also because of a "poor work record."

Before joining the Carter election campaing in 1976, Lowe served on the staff of Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. According to a spokeswoman in the Mayor's office, Lowe was appointed by Young to be a manager of one of 12 "neighborhood city halls" in Detroit, and served in that capacity from November, 1974, to May, 1976.