DURING THE LATTER heydays of colonial rule over the District of Columbia in the early 1960s, it was big news when President Kennedy recognized the metropolitan region in a special way, by creating the position of White House adviser on national capital affairs. The idea was to provide the appointed commissioners with a man in the administration who could coordinate and shepherd local requests for federal help through the various administration channels. Though the commissioners would have preferred direct, personal attention from the president, in those days the city government was necessarily grateful for any recognition from its federal overseers.

The relationship changed from president to president, as did the authority of the District to control more and more of its own local affairs. Now, it is President Reagan who has taken constructive steps to maintain a special working relationship between his administration and the entire Washington metropolitan region. In response to a proposal by Stephen H. Detwiler, chairman of the Arlington County Board and president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Mr. Reagan has appointed J. Steven Rhodes, special assistant for inter-governmental affairs, to serve additionally as liaison officer with the the District and all surrounding cities and counties the region.

Mr. Rhodes and his assistant, Eve Baskowitz, have not only met with COG leaders but have also pledged to coordinate the responses of various federal agencies to regional policies and requests. But the relationship won't be the same as it once was: the administration's view is that with additional self-government there should be reduced federal influence. Fewer strings may mean fewer dollars, too, but as the District government is finding out, there is a price for local independence from the federal influence.

How big a price -- in terms of additional local government functions and taxes -- remains to be seen. Obviously the federal interested in this area does, and should, include continued support from the administration and Congress for the special function and costs connected with being the seat of government -- and this is where the White House-Council of Government connection could prove enormously helpful.