John s. Herrington is President Reagan's nominee for secretary of energy, not attorney general, as reported yesterday.

President Reagan is expected to announce today the appointment of conservative columnist and commentator Patrick J. Buchanan as the new White House communications director, administration officials said yesterday.

Reagan is also expected to announce that Max L. Friedersdorf, a veteran of the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, is returning to the White House at the outset of Reagan's second term to handle relations with Congress, the officials said.

The president is also to announce that Edward J. Rollins, the former White House political director and Reagan-Bush campaign director, is returning to the West Wing to handle political and intergovernmental affairs, the officials said.

The three appointees, and a fourth to be named later for policy, are to be senior deputies to the new White House chief of staff, Donald T. Regan, who took his oath of office this week after swapping jobs with James A. Baker III, who became treasury secretary.

Officials said the staff choices indicate that Regan is seeking to balance pragmatic political operatives in Rollins and Friedersdorf with a highly visible conservative voice in Buchanan, particularly now that U.N. Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick is leaving the administration.

The White House was enveloped in speculation yesterday about how the feisty Buchanan would change the presentation of administration policy in tone and substance. One official noted, for example, that Buchanan has been publicly critical of Secretary of State George P. Shultz and others perceived as moderates in the administration.

Buchanan, a syndicated columnist and television commentator who shared a WRC radio talk show for several years with liberal columnist Tom Braden, was an assistant to President Richard M. Nixon specializing in the news media and speech writing and was one of the authors of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew's well-publicized attacks on the media.

Buchanan was reportedly backed for the position by another Nixon speechwriter, Kenneth L. Khachigian, who also wrote speeches for Reagan in his 1980 and 1984 presidential campaigns. Khachigian often has advocated a more combative approach by the White House in selling administration policy to Congress and the public.

Buchanan will be filling a White House post that has been vacant since communications director David R. Gergen resigned Dec. 8, 1983, to write and speak. Gergen's duties have been shared by deputy chief of staff Michael K. Deaver, who is leaving the White House for a public relations job, presidential assistant Richard G. Darman and spokesman Larry Speakes.

Speakes is expected to remain on the job in a separate capacity from Buchanan, dealing with the news media on a day-to-day basis, officials said.

Buchanan could not be reached for comment yesterday. In the past, Baker and Darman were targets of criticism from conservatives -- reflected by Buchanan and others -- that they tempered Reagan's conservative views. The president has rejected these attacks and, without mentioning names, questioned the conservative credentials of those who made them.

Gergen said of Buchanan yesterday, "Pat has one of the best political minds in Washington, he is especially good at getting to the heart of a problem and he was a tremendous asset to Richard Nixon, but the appointment is fraught with potential peril. The question is to what degree this appointment will mean that the administration is more combative and confrontational."

Gergen said the appointment should "once and for all" stifle the complaint of conservatives that they do not have a voice on the White House staff.

The president praised Baker and Darman for their contributions to his first-term successes in an exchange of letters yesterday marking their resignations from the White House. Darman is now deputy treasury secretary.

The fourth Regan deputy position, for policy, may later go to John A. Svahn, currently director of the White House Office of Policy Development, officials said, but an announcement may depend on the timing of Senate confirmation of presidential counselor Edwin Meese III as attorney general. Another new White House official, Alfred H. Kingon, the Cabinet secretary, is also expected to play a role in policy development, officials said.

Officials said yesterday that Reagan may appoint Robert H. Tuttle as the new White House personnel director, replacing John S. Herrington, Reagan's nominee to be attorney general.

Tuttle, who has worked in the personnel office, is the son of Holmes Tuttle, a wealthy southern California auto dealer who is the most prominent member of the so-called "kitchen cabinet" of California advisers who first urged Reagan to run for governor in 1966.