The new hand at the Agriculture Department, Wilmer (Vinegar Bend) Mizell, was handed a new piece of turf yesterday, even before his official installation as assistant secretary for governmental and public affairs.

In a Federal Register notice, the USDA announced that it was transferring authority for the department's American Indian assistance programs to Mizell's slot and away from the undersecretary for small community and rural development, a job held in this administration by Frank W. Naylor Jr.

The real responsibility, however, will stay where it is: on the desk of Stuart Jamieson, USDA coordinator for Indian affairs, who explains that the USDA doesn't really have any assistance programs specifically for Indians but wants to make sure Indians know about general USDA programs available to them, particularly at a time when programs targeted for Indians are being trimmed at the Interior and Housing and Urban Development departments.

"The tribes are in unique situations," Jamieson said. "Some of our delivery systems are not applicable to reservations."

Jamieson said the coordinating program was transferred to intergovernmental affairs "to get more visibility."

Meanwhile, the nomination of Mizell, a former Republican congressman from North Carolina, professional baseball player and protege of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), was approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee Tuesday and is awaiting Senate confirmation