There's one way for a political appointee to escape a new administration's office-cleaning broom: switch over to the civil service, which doesn't ask any embarrassing philosophical purity questions and offers a little more job security.

Some Carter administration appointees did just that when it was clear the White House would have a new tenant, but the Office of Personnel Management says at least a baker's dozen of them didn't do it right.

There are accepted ways within the bureaucracy to switch from an as-the-wind-blows political job to a less-vulnerable civil service one. Officeholders with previous status in the civil service can ask for reinstatement, for instance, and some professional workers -- such as Schedule A lawyers -- also can be moved into civil service jobs.

But OPM, in a study cited in a General Accounting Office report, says it studied three agencies and found 13 improper conversions out of a total of 43. An OPM spokesman says the study, undertaken as a result of allegations of impropriety in the agencies, found nine improper conversions at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- seven of them on or within a week of Election Day -- and four other cases in the Education Department and the Commission on Civil Rights.

GAO, meanwhile, did its own review of the departments of Transportation and Agriculture, the Federal Trade Commission and the Small Business Administration and found nothing amiss. Nevertheless, it has a solution to the problem: during transition periods from this day forth, the GAO recommended, agencies should submit weekly reports on conversions.