The big color photograph on the wall of David A. Stockman's office shows him in August 1981, warning President Reagan and his Cabinet in a Los Angeles hotel suite that the deficit for the next year would soar to an unheard-of $60 billion.

That scene could serve as a symbol of Stockman's turbulent 4 1/2 years as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

He was the man who issued the warnings. He also became the most powerful domestic policy-maker of the Reagan era, drawing up the blueprint to put into effect Reagan's campaign promise to shrink the federal government.

But he leaves a legacy of the biggest federal debt in American history, one that doubled during his tenure as budget direcrtor. The deficit, which Stockman and Reagan once promised would be reduced to zero by last year, is today edging toward $200 billion.

Stockman came into government with an overriding goal: the Reagan presidency would shrink the size and scope of government. And although he won many individual victories along the way, he departs on a note of profound frustration that his larger goal was not realized. He leaves behind a federal government that is consuming a bigger share of the national economy than at any time since World War II.

"Stockman recommended radical surgery, and I think you're getting incremental change," said Lawrence A. Kudlow, who served as Stockman's chief economist in Reagan's first term. "Dave moved the president quite a ways on the budget problem, but I don't think the president was ready for radical surgery. Reagan moved a fair amount -- and a fair amount just barely keeps you even."

Stockman was able "to explain the problem and to motivate people to do something about the problem," Kudlow added, "but the fact that the problem is unsolved is more a commentary on the political system than on his success or failure. It will take 10 or 15 years of gradual change."

Stockman was given to bursts of candor rarely heard in high government circles. He impressed even his staunchest enemies with a grasp of budget details. He often troubled colleagues in the administration with his pessimism, but surprised them with his skills at legislative maneuvering.

"We have found him to be very candid," Sen. Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) said yesterday. "The longer he stayed, the more credible he became and the more bluntly he spoke out."

That bluntness came from a deepening pessimism, which Stockman articulated June 5 in a private speech to the board of the New York Stock Exchange. "Our books as a nation are wildly, dangerously, intractably out of balance, a condition that is fundamentally threatening to our economic and political health at home and our leadership and strength abroad," he said.

The country has hidden from the truth of its plight by using "accounting gimmicks, evasions, half-truths and downright dishonesty in our budget numbers, debate and advocacy," he said. "Indeed, if the Securities and Exchange Commission had jurisdiction over the executive and legislative branches, many of us would be in jail."

Stockman came to the Reagan administration as part of a loose confederation of economic conservatives: those, like himself, who saw fiscal discipline as their chief goal and other "supply-siders" less concerned about the budget and more focused on tax cuts.

Late in 1980, Stockman and Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), reflecting these two camps, joined to write a memorandum to Reagan warning emergency measures were needed to avoid an "economic Dunkirk."

Early in the administration, Stockman joined the supply-siders in promising a rosy future once the president's tax and budget cuts were approved. His office proffered budget analyses to show that it was possible to cut taxes, trim domestic spending, vastly increase the defense budget, balance the budget and still produce an economic boom.

But as the months passed and the promises failed to materialize, Stockman became immersed in -- and increasingly fearful of -- expanding deficits. With recession looming in late 1981, he became nervous. Tensions grew with Kemp and other supply-siders.

This set the tone for the most intensely fought economic policy debates of the Reagan era, as rival camps pulled at the president over spending and tax cuts.

After Congress passed the first Reagan tax and spending cuts in 1981, Stockman's frustrations spilled out in surprisingly stark terms in his conversations with The Washington Post's William Greider, who published "The Education of David Stockman" that winter in The Atlantic.

Stockman's warnings were often ignored, and his credibility was sharply questioned after the Greider article.

The photograph on Stockman's wall was taken as he was urging Reagan to curb his ambitious five-year defense buildup. But Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger came to the meeting with charts showing big soldiers and little soldiers -- the latter a symbol of what Stockman's budget would mean for the Pentagon.

Year after year, Reagan rejected Stockman's pleas to scale back the defense buildup. Still, Stockman persisted in what many White House officials called the education of Ronald Reagan.

Reagan consistently displayed ambivalence about deficits, sometimes embracing Stockman's "radical surgery" and other times seizing on the value of various spending programs.

After the president eschewed a serious attack on the deficit before the 1984 campaign, Stockman was again deeply pessimistic. Telling Fortune magazine that "tens of billions" could be slashed from such domestic programs as mass transit and farm price supports, Stockman added, "I can't foresee that anytime in this decade we will have the kind of people in Congress who will abolish those things . . . . "

But Stockman came back after Reagan was reelected on a campaign that skirted the deficit issue and tried to cut these programs.

Frederick N. Khedouri, who worked with Stockman in Congress and at OMB and now is an adviser to Vice President Bush, said of Stockman: "If it can be said there is a Reagan revolution, then somebody had to make it practical and get it through the Congress. He did that."