An unfilled slot in the Department of Agriculture is a source of some continuing concern to the folks at the Heritage Foundation, whose first-year review of the Reagan administration notes that "the failure to nominate an assistant secretary for governmental and public affairs is a noteworthy shortcoming."

The conservative think-tankers think it would be a good idea to fill the spot, because "the department has had difficulty getting its legislation passed"--notwithstanding, apparently, the personal efforts of Secretary John R. Block and deputy secretary Richard Lyng, both of whom have traipsed the halls of Congress in pursuit of farm legislation.

No matter. The job is filled on an acting basis by Claude Gifford, a USDA careerist, and likely to stay so unless there's some political give on the part of either Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) or Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who have locked horns before on USDA appointments. Dole wanted a former Senate aide, Morgan Williams, to handle the job. Helms wanted Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell, former St. Louis Cardinal and Pittsburgh Pirate baseball player and former congressman from North Carolina.

Block considered splitting the job to satisfy both senators (who, after all, are the ranking majority members of the Senate Agriculture Committee), but gave it up, presumably in light of the expense.

The Heritage Foundation report, by the way, was written by William C. Bailey, a staff economist on the committee.