THE CITY administration is thinking of building a brand new administrative monster out of various old agencies. Just what this sort of maneuver may or may not do for the average citizen will take some divining, but here's one hint: the world "services" isn't in the name of this one. It would be called the Department of Public Works, and would be a kind of 1980s answer to the old Army-Corps -of-Engineers encampment that brigadier generals used to command from the fifth floor in the District Building until mayors and councils occupied the territory.

Lumped into this umbrella organization would be the departments of transportation (that's highways, traffic, drivers' licenses and so on), environmental services (that's trash and snow removal, among other things), general services (bricks, mortar and supplies) and surveys. With a grand total of perhaps 5,100 authorized employees, the new department would be second in size only to the Department of Human Services. Administration officials claim that this change would save the city $9.2 million in the first year through consolidated functions and reductions in personnel.

That -- give or take a million or two -- was what they were claiming back when they created the old Department of Human Resources, which grew up to be one of the most mismanaged, employee-bloated and wasteful of all the departments. So bad was it that candidate-for-mayor Marion Barry talked early and often in his campaign about breaking up DHR to improve health and welfare services. But just last week, Mr. Barry reorganized his Department of Labor, naming it the Department of Employment Services (that makes two "DES" agencies for the time being) and explaining that the purpose was to decentralize operations.

No doubt the worthy quest for ways to economize will produce other cosmetic changes that, even if they don't save money or serve the public any better, keep everybody guessing for a while. If that business gets brisk enough, the mayor might consider creating a Department of Reorganization and Obfuscation.