This week, full of brag and bounce, Ronald Reagan & Associates are donning their makeup and their costumes, going through final rehearsals and flying into town for their first four-year stand. It should be an entertaining show, and if it is to be a successful show, Reagan & Associates must make good on their promises to change policy. Can Republicans actually change policy? Did they ever change it very much in the past? Only the maniacs believe that they have.

In this Republican administration, as in past Republican administrations, wardrobe will be by Brooks Brothers (established 1818). Once again Washington will teem with rep ties, button-down collars and a surprising amplitude of white shirts. Here is the costume of corporate management, and the Republicans always pride themselves on the managers in their ranks. Yet if Reagan is actually to change policy he will need the assistance of something more than corporate America.

When one thinks of the company Reagan has kept over the past 16 years -- for instance, his friend William F. Buckley Jr. -- or notes the associates he has worked with -- for instance, Martin Anderson and Dick Allen -- one assumes Ronald Reagan knows this. One assumes he knows he needs men of conviction who have devoted years to studying policy and its implementation. But do the Associates know this? Across the country there is a growing sense that they do not.

Policy is different from soap, and government is different from Procter & Gamble. You cannot touch policy or clean clothes with it or beautify yourself with it. All you can do is suffer with it. Policy is impalpable. It is also, apparently, a mystery to corporate America. Else how does one explain the inability of corporate management to protect itself from the regulatory and economic policies that have so recently ambushed it? And, need I add, many of these policies were established during corporate management's last trot around the track, the Nixon-Ford era.

Corporate management does very well at producing things palpable. It does not do so well in producing things impalpable. It produces goods but rarely ideas or laws. It is superb at rationalizing procedure, but it rarely is of any value in deciding the product of bureacratic procedure, namely policy.

Ah, when the boys with the rep ties stride into their new offices over the next few weeks I should like to be on hand to watch the spectacle. New flow-charts will be put in place. Every paper clip will be accounted for. The budgeting process will be streamlined. The paper will flow efficiently, but who will understand what is written on that paper? Who will be able to analyze its influence on our society? Who will suggest alternatives to what is written on that paper? Is the average corporate manager capable of this sort of thing? I can see no evidence of it.

To produce soap one need have no convictions about the philosophical significance of soap. In fact, any corporate nabob given to such elocutions would be a menace to the soap industry, and probably to personal hygiene. But to produce, say, welfare policy, one must have philosophical convictions about welfare. Without such convictions one is easily manipulated by those who have them, and in the swales of our government agencies there labor many busy beavers with just such convictions.

If Ronald Reagan & Associates are going to make good on their promise to change policy, they are going to have to overcome these busy beavers. Placing non-liberals, attired in boiled shirts and rep ties, in subcabinet positions will not work. The new administration is going to have to bring in people who have spent their lives analyzing policy and designing alternatives to the deplorable policies that have brought us to the present state of drear. It is going to have to bring in people with convictions about our society's needs and the policies government might effect to answer those needs.

More than any president since Wilson, Reagan has been associated with such people. For 16 years he has traveled in the company of policy analysts and writers from the conservative think tanks, academe and journalism. He has thrived on their views. It would be a stupendous irony if a man with this unusual background failed to make use of it.

If he is to deliver on his promises he must see to it that the hundreds of appointees out in the bureaucracy have the philosophical conviction and knowledge of government necessary to change policy. Are the boys from corporate America likely to do this? Ask Casper Weinberger how much influence he had when he was secretary of health, education and welfare. As I recall, his department was foaming with threats against the Bill of Rights in those days, and Weinberger was helpless to scotch them. I say forget Brooks Brothers. Bring in more Haigs and Kirkpatricks and Stockmans. Give the bureaucrats from the Age of Carter a vision of hell.