WHEN CONSTRUCTION of the Metro system began a decade ago, civil-rights and community groups urged city and federal officials to ensure that more black workers be hired - not only for work on Metro, but for other city and federal construction projects as well. Their concern was prompted by a chronic high unemployment rate among blacks, by the high wages paid to skilled construction workers, and by the refusal of most construction unions to enroll blacks in their ranks. One result of the agitation was a city requirement that local unions enroll more minorities in their apprenticeship programs, which have been the traditional route to union membership. That effort was to be supervised by the D.C. Apprenticeship Council, whose eight members are appointed by major.

So far, so good, you might have said at the time. Nobody really expected the program to produce quick, dramatic gains in black union membership. But you could have aanticiapted soem progress along the line. Certainly, there was no reason to suspect at the time that the whole program would simply be allowed to collapse - that it would become, in fact, one more said chapter in the long history of indifference and neglect that has characterized so much of the performance of the incumbents at City Hall.

And yet that's exactly what's happened. For the past several years, those in charge of this effort apparently have not even tried to find out just how many unions are complying with the city's rule. We can't quite be positive about this because council officials have steadfastly ignored our requests for enlightenement. But the word is that the council's overseers have never seriously investigated a single union program, must enroll minorities. This negligence was uncovered two years ago by investigators from the Department of Labor. Since then, the situation on the council seems, if anything, to have gotten worse. The council's staff has been without a permanent director for a year, and apparently it has not conducted a review of the program in nearly three years.

Clearly, in the waning days of Walter Washington's administration, it is too much to expect the present crowd to begin carrying out the council's mandate. What the new administration will have to do, when it moves into office in January, is to get a new set of council members and a permanent staff director who are interested in honoring the city's commitment to equal opportunity in the construction industry.