NOW THE U.S. Labor Department is investigating the District's annual flop of a summer jobs program, taking this yearly slapstick to new heights of drama. But it is doubtful that even a federal investigation will help the 14,000 young people who: get sent to the wrong jobs; get sent to no job, although they were told the had a job; or show up at a job only to find no supervisor. Already such horrors have occurred in abundance, and they caught the attention of Labor Secretary Ray Donovan. The secretary, noting that the summer jobs program here will cost the federal government $8.6 billion, said he was particularly concerned because the Reagan administration had preserved the summer jobs part of CETA despite budget cuts in every other part of the public work program.

While the federal investigation may seem to get the summer program off to faster disaster than evern, some perspective is necessary. The secretary's reaction is, after all, based on the first day of the program. First day of any program are usually chaotic. With the District's summer job program, however, chaotic first days have been known to last through the whole summer.

A second point to remember is that the federal investigation is not focused on the District alone but on several summer job programs around the nation. The intent of the investigation is to find out what makes a summer job program a success or a failure.

But even when one steps back to look at the problems that fell on the program in its first week this year, there is no excuse for certain occurrences. Why, for instance, should young people who have been notified that they will have a job not yet have been told where to report for work? Why would employers not know that the program has a staggered starting schedule, meaning that not all of the youngsters should have started work last Tuesday? And why should so many young people simply not have appeared for work or, in other cases, so many employers not have appeared to welcome those who did show up? Those incidents -- and they were not rare -- are inexcusable in a program that has had since last September to get organized.

At this point it is not clear what can be done to make sure the program works. It is only fair to give the program time to settle down. The District's Employment Services Department should spare no effort in that grace period to make sure the program really does work. The primary function of the program is to give young people a work experience that teaches them how to work -- that is, how to function with employers and other workers and how to behave in a work place. The second is to pay the young people so that they know they are involved in a professional relationship in which their good work brings rewards. If the District's summer jobs program can meet those two standards, it will have been a success.