AWARDS OF FEDERAL money for various state and local projects make fine fodder for hometown newsletters from members of Congress, but here at the hub of federal grantsmanship, they usually aren't big news. This week, though, one of the hometowns happened to be Washington, D.C.-- AND the significance of the award is greater than the number of dollars involved. The grants for the District amount to sort of a bonus for good fiscal behavior at city hall.

The Mid-Atlantic Federal Regional Council, the agency chiefs who deal with states in this region, agreed to meet for the first time with District officials; and it awarded $58 million for a long list of housing, health, environmental and energy projects because-- here's the refreshing part-- the city government had demonstrated that it could use the money effectively. Jack Watson, assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs, gave credit to Mayor Barry's staff for "vital and aggressive" cooperation with federal officials and a "can-do" attitude. Given the history of federal grants either forfeited, applied for too late or misspent, this latest report card on the D.C. government is worth framing.

It also marks an improvement in the District-federal relationship-- which, however much local self-government exists or is still sought-- will continue to be crucial to the economy of this metropolitan region. To push politically for more freedom from federal domination is fine, but it should not be confused with the maintenance of a close partnership, which is simply a matter of good fiscal sense.