BECAUSE BOTH OF THEM overreacted, Mayor Barry and Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) have succeeded in stirring up new debate over an old question - whether District government employees should run to Congress with their complaints. This is how the city was run back in the pre-home-rule-charter days. Anytime the police, firefighters, teachers or other employees didn't like what their chiefs, supervisors and highest D.C. officials had set forth as policy, they could - and did - make an end run around their superiors to certain members of Congress who had direct control over all legislation affecting the city. It was a terrible way to run a local government.

This no doubt accounts for the excessive reaction of Mayor Barry upon hearing that certain employees still considered Congress a place to take their grievances. Last month, the mayor was reported to have said that he would fire any District government employee who ignored the city's grievance procedures. "I am not trying to put a muzzle on anyone, but if it happens again that person won't have a job." That was a crude and wrongheaded way to put it, even though Mr. Barry was trying to make a proper point: that today's elected local government - not Congress - should be responsible for running the city's affairs. "We just can't have city employees wheeling and dealing with Congress," he said.

In any case, those remarks prompted George Frain, president of the Adams-Morgan Association, to fire off a letter to Sen. Leahy asking for the senator's reaction. Mr. Leahy responded that he has invited any employee of either the federal government or the District government to "express their problems to me," while acknowledging that "there are appropriate channels for such complaints" that should be used. To this he added a gratuitous pledge to "do everything I can to correct situations that are clearly wasteful or nonproductive" and to "do everything in my power to protect individuals from adverse reactions taken against them as a result of bringing matters to the attention of Congress."

Enough. Mayor Barry should not be threatening to fire every potential whistle-blower in City Hall - and Sen. Leahy should not be offering himself as a supra-mayor of this city. A cooling off is in order so that a modicum of common sense can be restored to the important question of where whistle-blowers should blow.