OKAY: WE KNEW the Energy Department was in the doghouse with a lot of people in this administration, and that the Department of Education wasn't exactly in good standing either, and that whoever was named to head such pariah agencies might be more in the way of beheading them. But what have they got against the poor old Constitution?

This question is prompted by the appointment of former senator Roger Jepsen of Iowa to be executive director of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution, an appointment that took effect Jan. 3, the same day he left the Senate seat he had lost in November.

Mr. Jepsen's most celebrated venture in interpreting the Constitution occurred in 1982, when he was stopped for traveling solo in those lanes on Shirley Highway reserved for vehicles with four occupants. As he later explained it, "It's perfectly legal. I drive my American-made car to work as provided in the Constitution." You may not remember that part of the Constitution from your civics class. It's right after the Articles on proper battery maintenance and how to rotate radial tires.

Other than that widely reported incident, Mr. Jepsen maintained a low profile on the Constitution. In the meantime, however, he was involved in a row over the assigning of a Marine colonel (salary paid by the Pentagon) to his staff for purposes of helping Iowa obtain military contracts, and in a complicated and embarrassing dispute over whether he had been rather brutally whipped into line by the White House on a vital arms-sale vote.

There was nothing in his first term to compel Iowans to grant him a second, and they didn't. And there is nothing wrong with the administration's putting a defeated loyalist in a $70,500 job (and his former administrative assistant in one paying $67,940), but why this job?

The bicentennial of the Constitution may not be as flashy as the 200th anniversary of the country's independence in 1976, but it could hardly be called less important. The writing and ratifying of the country's basic document of government deserves to be commemorated in a way that will excite and engage people as much as the commemoration of the Declaration of Independence did nine years ago. This is a commission that will need people of distinction and imagination. Appointments to it shouldn't be used for doing favors and paying off debts.