Despite optimistic talk in November about "hitting the ground running," the spanking new Reagan administration took office yesterday without most of the men and women who will eventually make and execute government policy.

Only a tiny fraction of the new administration's appointments have yet been announced, and there was no sign yesterday when there might be more. White House officials promised them "soon."

As a result, vitually all the government's departments will now operate on the governmental equivalent of cruise control. Judging by precedent -- most recently, the experience of the Carter administration four years ago -- the daffodils and perhaps the tulips will have bloomed before the Reagan administration is fully in place.

This is not what the new team wanted, as its members said time and again. Reagan conducted the most elaborate and expensive talent search of any president-elect in history, and also the most expensive transition process ever. Neither was enough to overcome the inertia that seems to govern the making of a new administration in Washington.

In March 1977, when the Carter administration had appointed fewer than a third of its top people, presidential aide Hamilton Jordan blamed slow FBI clearances and other bureaucratic interference for much of the delay. "Given the fact that hopefully we will be here four years, two or three weeks aren't that important," Jordan said on March 3, 1977.

In fact, it takes a new administration many months to settle in, although every new president declares his intention to move faster than that.

Around Washington yesterday members of the permanent government exchanged speculation -- and in a few cases, hard information -- about who the new politically appointed bosses would be.

Here is a roundup of the latest reports and rumors on sub-cabinet appointments:

Department of State, Alexander M. Haig Jr., confirmed yesterday as secretary, is said to hope that Justice William Clark of the California Supreme Court will decide not to accept the job of deputy secretary that president Reagan has offered him.

Haig has picked a number of other senior officials for his staff. He reportedly wants Ambassador Walter Stoessel, now the U.S. envoy in West Germany, to take the No. 3 job, undersecretary for political affairs. Myer Rashish, a Washington consultant, is slated to become undersecretary for economic affairs. Ambassador Laurence Eagleburger, once Henry Kissinger's righthand man when Kissinger was secretary, is Haig's choice to be assistant secretary for European affairs.

Department of Defense. Incoming Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has chosen his No. 2 man, Deputy CIA director Frank Carlucci.

The conservatives are apparently pushing Paul H. Nitze, a hardliner who served in the Johnson and Nixon administrations and was a candidate to be secretary of defense in the Carter administration, for the No. 3 Pentagon position, undersecretary for policy.

No other top jobs are filled. John Lehman, deputy director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in the Nixon-Ford years, is the frontrunner to be secretary of the Navy, though conservative sources on Capital Hill who favor his appointment say it isn't certain yet. William J. Perry, undersecretary of defense for research and development in the Carter administration, has agreed to stay on briefly as a consultant. The frontrunner for his job, reportedly, is Richard D. DeLauer, 62, executive vice president of TRW Inc., a major defense contractor whose headquarters are in Los Angeles.

According to informed sources, Weinberger has a favorite candidate to become assistant secretary for public affairs, but Reagan's press secretary, James Brady, wants to put a person of his choosing into that job.

Treasury. Secretary-designate Donald Reagan has begun to assemble a team that includes a number of men closely identified with the "supply side" tax-cut policy Reagan embraced during the 1980 campaign. However, Reagan has not filled many of the top jobs in the department, including the deputy secretary's position.

Norman Ture will fill the new position of undersecretary for tax policy. A veteran of the Eisenhower administration, Ture drafted the original Kemp-Roth tax cut legislation, and is an ardent advocate of substantial tax reductions. John (Buck) Chapoton, 44, a tax lawyer from Houston, will apparently serve as assistant secretary for tax policy. He was in the office yesterday, although his appointment has not been announced.

Beryl Sprinkel, senior vice president of the Harris Trust and Savings Bank of Chicago and a conservative, monetarist economist, is slated to become undersecretary for monetary affairs.Paul Craig Roberts, a former editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal and aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), is in line to become assistant secretary for economic affairs.

Informed speculators said yesterday that Richard D. Erb, a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute, is the leading candidate to become assistant secretary for international affairs.

Energy. There was talk during the campaign and the transition that the reagan administration would move quickly to alter key energy policies, but so far there is no sign that it is ready to do so. Secretary-designate James Edwards apparently has not settled on any of his key assistants -- or if he has, he has kept his choices secret.

Justice. Attorney General-designate William French Smith has selected Edward C. Schmults, a former treasury general counsel, as his deputy. Schmults was being shown around the department yesterday by Charles Renfrew, the Carter administration's deputy attorney general, who is staying on temporarily. Otherwise, career officias said yesterday, there was no sign of any new policy-level officials.

Agriculture. Incoming Secretary John Block was in his office yesterday, but he had no sub-Cabinet assistants to work with. Rumors persist that the other leading candidate for the secretary's job, Richard Lyng, president of the American Meat Institute, is the leading candidate for the No. 2 job.

At lower levels there are lots of rumors, but no announcements. Among those being discussed as possible asistant secretaries are Seeley (R-Iowa); Elizabeth Whalen of the American Council of Science and Health; William McMillan, president of the American Cattlemen's Association, and James Bostic, a former official of the department.

Health and Human Services. The new secretary, Richard Schweiker, and his top Senate aide, David Newhall, are installed in the department and working on assembling a team of key officials, which will include Newhall. Their first choice is David Swoap, a former welfare aide to Reagan when he was govenor of California and more recently an assistant to Sen. William Armstrong (R-Col.).

Otherwise the huge bureaucratic organizations of HHS are nearly all headless. Dr. Donald Fredrickson, a career official who is head of the National Institutes of Health, is expected to stay in that job.

Education. Secretary-designate Terrel Bell has yet to name any assistants. The department could run itself for a long time before anyone realized there was no one in the driver's seat," one official said yesterday.

Transportation. Incoming Secretary Drew Lewis and his No. 2 man, Darrel Trent, haven't chosen assistant secretaries or directors for the big staff agencies under their control.

There was scant information on appointees (besides the designated secretaries) at the departments of Commerce, Labor, Housing and Urban Development, and Interior. The Labor Secretary-designate, Raymond Donovan, is stuck in a holding pattern pending the resolution of questions raised by an FBI informer, who claims he accepted bribes from Donovan in the 1960s in return for labor peace at Donovan's New Jersey construction company.