UNDER PRESENT federal law, enlisted members of the armed forces are not permitted and may not be ordered "to leave their posts to engage in civilian pursuits which interfere with the customary regular employment of civilians." nevertheless, thousands of servicemen and servicewomen do engage in a little moonlighting here and there, and nobody seems to mind. But three other laws on the books specifically prohibit members of military bands from moonlighting and efforts by the Pentagon to put those military musicians on an equal footing with their nonmusical colleagues in uniform have produced a terrible, atonal racket.

The quarrel centers on legislation (which has been approved by the House Armed Services Committee) to repeal all four laws. The chief combatants, as you might have expected, are the military musicians themselves, on the one hand, and, on the other, the local branch of the American Federation of Musicians. The union has argued that it is unfair to permit members of the military bands that are based in Washington to take money for private engagements after hours because, foir one thing, they are getting federal benefits not available to plain old private working musicians and, for another, there are so many such military musicians in the capital area that the competition would be overwhelming and unfair.

In response the military musicians point out that most of the members of rhe local chapter of the union in fact are moonlighting as musicians themselves, being employed at other full-time jobs, some with the federal government. They mpte that mucjh of the moonlighting music at supper clubs and so farth is non-union at the moment, and that they would be willing to join the union if the local would let them.

The fact is that the Pentagon has been tryign for several years to get all four laws wiped off the books, arguing - quite rightly, in our view - that the laws discriminate unfairly among different kinds of military personnel. The general restriction against moonlighting, for instance, applies to enlisted personnel, but not to officers. And the specific restrictions on the leisure time activities of musicians apply to members, including officers, of all military bands - excrpt those of the Coast Guard and the U.S. Naval Academy.

It is true, as five dissenting members of the Armed Services Committee pointed out in a minority statement, that the musicians' union was not heard in testimony on the legislation. And that seems to us a most unfortunate, not to say pointliss, lapse on the part of the committee, because on substance, as distinct from procedure, we think the pro-repeal forces have the better of the argument. For the anomalies of the law govening military moonlighting are an accident of history and should not remain on the statute books.The same rules should apply to all military personnel, or at least to all those based in the same personnel, or at least to all those based in the same area. We can dream up a situation, such as another Great Depression, in which the government might believe it necessary to restrict the moonlighting activities ofall its personnel in some localities to avoid interfering with the civilian labor force. But given the role of moonlighting in today's economy, the nature of the moonlighters (who count among their number employees from almost every government agency) and the need to keep restrictions to a minimum if you are to recruit a strong all-volunteer armed force, the Pentagon's proposal to wipe the existing legislation from the books makes sense.