The government's Rocky Mountain Laboratory is a set of medical research buildings in the foothills of the rugged Bitterroot Range of the Rockies. Its scientists were the ones to discover that Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is caused by a microbe, spread by ticks.

Yet, the President's Private Sector Survey on Cost Control maintains that the laboratory is an "indulgence" and "sinecure" for a staff whose work had become "unacceptable" before its parent agency, the National Institute of Arthritis and Infectious Diseases arm of the National Institutes of Health, moved to upgrade it. Now, the survey contends, the lab has become simply a "training facility" for inexperienced young scientists, its site hampers recruitment and its research could be done at the NIH, or elsewhere, saving $6 million a year.

Not so, responds the arthritis institute. The laboratory does unique work studying sexually transmitted diseases and other problems. Duplicating it elsewhere would require expensive new buildings. The staff has been "revitalized," and several older scientists have departed. And there has been no problem in enlisting new staff members--many of them like life in the mountains.

The institute also said the task force is wrong when it calls the young scientists trainees. Many are "post-docs": younger Ph.Ds with several years' experience. NIH has been built on a system of senior scientists working with younger ones who contribute many new ideas. The proof, says the arthritis institute: in the past year, the lab's scientists successfully identified the microbe that causes another important tick-borne disease: debilitating Lyme arthritis. MOUTH WORK . . . NIH's National Institute of Dental Research long has been a place to study the body, not just the mouth.

Now its scientists are applying some of their knowledge, and seeking more, on patients at two new clinics at the NIH's research hospital, the Clinical Center in Bethesda.

The nation's first multi-disciplinary pain clinic devoted exclusively to research has been started by the dental institute in cooperation with other NIH institutes. Dentists often have to treat pain, and the goal is to learn more about treating dental patients, diabetics and those who suffer from cancer, Parkinson's disease, back trouble and other disorders.

In addition, a new "Dry Mouth Consultation Service" is seeing patients with "xerostomia"--that is, changes in salivary gland function or, simply, "dry mouth," an often painful and difficult problem that can inhibit eating and talking.

Dry mouth may be a symptom of various diseases, or may be caused by medical treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy or by more than 200 drugs. There usually is no effective way to treat it, but sufferers often can be given relief.

Both new clinics are seeking patients who need help and who fit the needs of their research programs. Those who might qualify should have a physician or dentist contact the appropriate clinic. A DOCTORATE WITH A DIFFERENCE . . . Honorary degrees are nothing new for prominent NIH scientists, but a recent one awarded to Dr. Harold Loe, the head of the dental institute, caused comment.

Last month the University of Lund, Sweden, required him to appear in white tie and tails, and then, as part of the honor, placed a top hat on his head. The Norwegian-born Loe, an authority on gum disease, received an honorary degree from Georgetown University in the same week, added to honors he had received from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium; the Royal Dental College of Aarhus, Denmark, and the University of Athens.

Loe said his biggest problem was getting the top hat home--"It doesn't fit into anything."