THE COMBINED FEDERAL campaign--through which government employees contribute to a wide range of charities--has got badly out of hand. The eligibility rules are too loose, and a number of highly political organizations have litigated their way onto the list of agencies that share the $82 million donated by civil servants every year through payroll deductions. The Office of Personnel Management has the difficult job of presiding over the campaign and its rules, and OPM's director, Donald J. Devine, is correct in trying to tighten the standards.

Mr. Devine unfortunately got this endeavor off to a poor beginning by entangling it in his personal crusade against abortion. His original draft would have barred from the campaign any agency that provides even "abortion-related" counseling. That language has been overruled within the administration, evidently on the excellent grounds, among others, that it wouldn't stand up in court. The draft executive order now circulating makes no reference to abortion but directs itself to the proper issue-- the status of the advocacy organizations.

They are valuable. They are entitled to the support of those citizens who agree with their purposes. They are organizations like the Puerto Rico Legal Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the National Recreation and Park Association. They are all currently eligible to take part in the Combined Federal Campaign--and they should not be.

Organizations devoted to changing public policy, and to testing it in the courtroom, are far beyond the traditional bounds of a united charitable campaign. The Combined Federal Campaign is much like the United Way--to which, incidentally, four-fifths of its money goes. It brings crucial support to small and obscure agencies as well as the big ones, and does it with minimal expense for fund-raising. But it has to be based on a broad consensus within the community. That consensus is necessarily threatened by the inclusion of the advocacy and litigation groups. By definition, consensus is not their line.

The Office of Personnel Management proposes to limit the campaign strictly to health and welfare agencies. That would serve to protect the vital consensus, just as dropping the references to abortion also served to protect it. After a false start, OPM is now on the right track.