A story on the Reagan administration's personnel office which appeared last Thursday compared the appointments of women and minorities in the top 416 positions with similar appointments to 273 high-level positions in the Carter administration. The figure for the Carter positions should have been 317, which lowers the percentage of women and minorities in top Carter administration posts. The correct Carter figures are: women, 13.8 percent; blacks, 9.2 percent; and Hispanics, 2.9 percent.

Without fanfare or announcement, the once-embattled White House personnel office is quietly putting a distinctively conservative stamp on the departments and agencies of the Reagan administration.

As the administration nears its six-month mark, President Reagan appears to be succeeding better than either President Nixon or President Carter before him in putting ideologically committed adherents into critical, though not always highly visible, sub-cabinet positions.

Only a few weeks ago the personnel office headed by E. Pendleton (Pen) James, a longtime friend of White House counselor Edwin Meese III, was being hammered from all sides.

The pace of appointments seemed exceptionally slow. Conservatives complained appointees without commitment to Reagan were getting choice jobs while Reagan campaign workers couldn't even get telephone calls returned. jWomen and minority groups charged they were badly underrepresented.

Women and minorities, especially blacks, still have their complaints. James continues to be regarded in many quarters as a likeable but indecisive director of personnel. But he has a strong deputy now, most of the top appointments have been made and the movement conservatives who were so critical a few weeks ago find results to their liking.

"Conservatives feel much better about what has been going on," says pre-eminent "New Right" fund-raiser Richard A. Viguere. "It's not all we like, but it's a long way from what it was."

Meese and James say the conservatives never had anything to worry about.

"The problem was largely one of preception rather than reality," Meese said. "There were lots of good people in the pipeline, but the problems in getting them through it, which never were as much as they were made out to be, caused some criticism."

But others in the administration say real changes have taken place in the personnel office, with effective control passing from James to his deputy, John S. Herrington, a Californian who has worked in every Reagan campaign.

Herrington was hired last month by the reigning White House triumvirate of Meese, chief of staff James A Baker III and deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver and given the mission of shaping and speeding processes in the office.

Since then, the personnel shop has been routinely grinding out names of Reagan loyalists and Republican campaign workers for jobs that are important but not especially well-known.

The names of Robert A. Rowland, James R. Richards and Nora Walsh Hussey are not exactly household words, but they are typical of the recent appointees requiring Senate confirmation who have toiled in the political vineyards.

Rowland was state vice chairman of the Reagan campaign in Texas and has been nominated as a member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. Richards, a former member of the Colorado Gop State Central Committee, has been named inspector general at the Department of Energy. Hussey, the "Outstanding Republican Woman in South Dakota" in 1980, has been superintendent of the U.S. Mint at Denver.

And these are only three examples among many.

Soon after Herrington took operational command, the staff was trimmed from 60 to 38 employes. Several of those let go, most of them to other jobs in the administration, had been targets of conservatives but White House officials say the principal problem was one of incompetence, not ideology.

James responded to criticisms of his shop, said one aide, by adding people instead of removing them and the result was "a layered bureauacracy" that no one could penetrate.

Herrington, a low-key lawyer with administrative experience, moved quickly to streamline procedures, going so far as to visit the FBI and ask why field checks on prospective appointees took so long. He also won support of White House political adviser Lyn Nofziger, who has been battling since the inauguration to see Reagan loyalists are rewarded with jobs

The rewards were slow in coming, and conservatives were quick to find a villain. They chose James Cavanaugh, James' original deputy, who was typed by John Lofton of the Conservative Digest as "a Nixon White House retread who pulls most of the personnel strings."

Cavanaugh, who served as a consultant willing to stay only 60 days, was considered both the most professional and least ideological figure involved in the appointments process, and James says he "left a distinct void" when he returned to California.

The administration then brought in another Californian, William Draper, who didn't fill the void. His reward was to be named president of the Export-Import Bank. Herrington, the third deputy, matched Cavanaugh in competence ans was also, according to White House sources, given authority to "access the computer" and see whether a prospective appointee is on the computerized list of several thousand Reagan loyalists.

This list had been carefully prepared during the transition but rarely used. Herrington's willingness to use it has convinced conservatives he is serious about naming Reagan loyalists.

The most vocal and consistent critics of the appointments process in the White House were Nofziger, Baker and his deputy, Richard Darman.

Nofziger became the sounding board for every disgruntled loyalist who had been passed over. The political adviser complained loudly that the personnel office was "a disaster" and constantly prodded for changes.

"Lyn manned the barricades and did the work of the Lord," says Viguerie, in expressing the respect which conservatives outside the administration hold for Nofziger on the personnel issue.

Republican party officials have a similar view. At last week's meeting of the Republican National Committee, Tennessee GOP Chairman Charles Overby said, "The personnel operation is working better, and Lyn deserves the credit."

While Nofziger pushed for political responsiveness, Baker and Darman sought swifter procedures. Baker acknowledged personnel was a weak link in what he otherwise described as a strong administration and urged James to hire a strong deputy.

Ultimately, the White House triumvirate got one for him.

Reagan acknowledged the weakness, too. In a March 27 interview with The Washington Post, the president said "slowness in filing appointments" disappointed him more than anything in the first two months of his presidency.

Herrington has tried to avoid taking credit for what has happened, saying many of the changes for which he is credited were already in the works.

But of his political commitment to Reagan, there is no doubt.

"I believe that the election of Ronald Reagan is a turning point in the history of America," Herrington said last week. "It's my feeling that the agencies have to be responsive to the president because when he dictates a policy it has to be carried out. If the people aren't in place to carry out that policy, the president is going to fail."

One avowed "movement conservative" in the administration thinks this commitment will prove especially important in the later years of the administration as lower-level political jobs are filled with loyalists. This aide thinks the organized conservatives had the least impact on the top appointments, which were made by the president because of personal associations and preferences.

But the conservatives have been influential in picking the sub-cabinet, and most influential of all with the "Schedule C" jobs at the bottom of the patronage ladder.

Figures provided by James last week show that 375 of the 416 presidential appointments requiring Senate confirmation (87 percent) had been filed, though some had not been announced. They included 38 women (10.1 percent), 14 hispanics (3.7) and 13 blacks (3.5).

Reagan administration officials said these figures compare favorably with Carter administration figures at the end of the first year. Actually, they don't. The Carter figures were taken from a table of 273 high-level positions compiled by Common Cause and showed 44 women (16.1 percent), 29 blacks (10.6) and 9 Hispanics (3.3).

Nofziger, who has pushed for appointment of both women and minorities, acknowledges the administration got "a late start," and adds, "I think there's a recognition we've got to do better than we did."

Baker thinks so, too, and predicts the percentage of women in the Reagan administration could go as high as 25 percent once appointments are made to federal boards and commissions.

But whoever is appointed, it is likely control will remain firmly in the White House. James took note of this last week when he told reporters that 60 of the 140 ambassadors had been named by the administration although only seven have been announced, pending conflict-of-interest and FBI checks. o

Describing what had happened, James said the president was calling the ambassadorial designates and asking them to serve.

"Why is the president doing this himself?" a reporter asked.

"We are trying to make the White House the focal point . . . ," James replied, and he went on to contrast the Nixon administration in which he had once served with the Reagan administration.

"Nixon, like Carter, lost the appointments process," James said. "We haven't yet. They lost control to the departments and agencies. We have maintained control at the Oval Office."