An article March 4 incorrectly reported that nine Transportation Department chief counsels who were career employes were replaced by the Reagan administration with noncareer employes. The correct number is two. A map yesterday transposed the locations of Iraq's Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Staff members of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration threw a party Friday for Frank A. Berndt. But there was a lot of anger behind the laughter and clinking glasses.

Berndt, 58, a career civil servant since 1962, has been removed from his job as NHTSA chief counsel, a position he had held since May 1979. He was the last of nine Transportation Department chief counsels, all civil servants, removed under the Reagan administration.

The high-ranking career bureaucrats have been replaced by political appointees, a development that has sparked charges that the top jobs at the NHTSA and throughout DOT are being reshaped to meet the needs of the Republican Party at the expense of service to the general public.

"They are politicizing the chief counsels' offices by replacing Senior Executive Service people with Schedule Cs," said one DOT source who requested anonymity.

"This has been in the works for some time," said another Transportation Department source, who also asked not to be identified. "All of the agencies within DOT now have Schedule C chief counsels. Berndt was the last to go. He just managed to stay on longer than the others."

However, the alleged purge goes beyond chief counsels' suites. Dana L. Scott, NHTSA associate administrator for administration, is leaving his job to make way for a political appointee, agency and other sources said.

Dana entered federal civil service in the early 1950s and has been in his present position since 1970.

Neither Berndt nor Scott were available last week for comment. A spokesman for Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, however, said, "For the most part, the position of chief counsel traditionally has been a noncareer job.

"The overall number of career versus noncareer jobs has not changed substantially at DOT under . . . Reagan," the spokesman said.

Berndt reportedly is to move to the Environmental Protection Agency in an unannounced capacity. There was no word late last week on Scott's plans.

SEAT-BELT SPENDING HIT . . .

The NHTSA's request for $80 million over the next four years to persuade drivers to wear seat belts is running into roadblocks on Capitol Hill. Opposing lawmakers say they think that the money will be used to lobby states for laws requiring the use of seat belts.

If enough states pass such laws by 1989, the beginning of the 1990 model year, auto makers can escape a federal requirement that they put air bags or another form of automatic crash-protection in new cars sold in this country. The auto industry plans to spend $15 million this year to lobby state assemblies for seat belt laws.

Some members of Congress, such as Rep. Timothy E. Wirth (D -- Colo.), chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications, consumer protection and finance, said the NHTSA effort would complement the auto makers' campaign.

DOT "is stacking the deck to ensure that its automatic crash-protection requirements are repealed at the earliest possible time," Wirth said.

But NHTSA Administrator Diane K. Steed and auto industry officials contend that the charge is unwarranted. Steed said the NHTSA's goal is to bring about an immediate reduction in traffic fatalities by getting drivers to use seat belts. FRIDAY C.O.B. SPECIAL . . .

As often happens in this town, controversial policy news comes at the close of business on Friday. To wit: Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. announced that they are asking the NHTSA to relax 1985 corporate average fleet-fuel-economy standards for passenger cars. The standards set the average miles per gallon that an auto maker's new-car fleet must achieve. The 1985 standard is 27.5 mpg.