Thomas K. Turnage has taken office as chief of the Veterans Administration, following unanimous Senate confirmation. A combat veteran of World War II and Korea, Turnage has served as director of the U.S. Selective Service System for the past 4 1/2 years.

Turnage is the 13th administrator of what has become the federal government's largest independent agency, with an annual budget of $26 billion. House Proud . . .

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has been taking a lot of flak for its procedures, published this week, to ensure that no recipients of federal housing assistance are illegal aliens.

HUD Secretary Samuel R. Pierce defends the regs, saying, "It makes me mad as hell, people sneaking into this country -- and we should be helping them out? We should be kicking them out." Who's in Charge? . . .

President Reagan's announcement urging creation of an undersecretary of defense for acquisition in the Pentagon has a familiar ring. During Reagan's first term, after all, Richard D. DeLauer served as undersecretary for research and engineering with key responsbilities as the Defense Department's acquisition executive.

It was only when DeLauer retired that Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger "reformed" the Pentagon by naming an assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics. James P. Wade Jr., who filled the new position, and Donald A. Hicks, who inherited DeLauer's now-weakened position, couldn't agree on who was in charge of procurement. So Deputy Secretary William H. Taft IV reformed the system again by declaring himself the acquisition executive.

Now, if Congress agrees, that duty will devolve back to an undersecretary. Silver Lining . . .

It didn't take Richard E. Lyng long to fall back on the rule that guides the politico through tough times: When things are as bad as they've been in ages, find something positive to say. Lyng did it yesterday in Gibbon, Neb., on his first tour of farm country since becoming secretary of agriculture.

In an area where foreclosures, bankruptcies and falling prices have enveloped farmers in gloom, Lyng told a breakfast audience that "of all the times a person might have to enter agriculture and stay, now is the best time in the past 30 to 40 years. . . opportunities are going to be bright."

And land prices are going to be low. Up and Out at HHS . . .

John J. O'Shaughnessy, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for management and budget, is leaving next week to become senior vice president of the Greater New York Hospital Association. Anthony (Tony) McCann, Senate Budget Committee expert on many HHS programs, has been named as his successor. And Ron Docksai, staff director of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee under Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), is under consideration by the White House for the job of assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for legislation. Risky Business . . .

Acting Small Business Administration chief Charles Heatherly, who fired five of SBA's regional administrators on Tuesday, fired one more on Wednesday. The Chicago regional administrator was asked to vacate his office by nightfall.

The stated reason for these bloodlettings is that Heatherly wants regional administrators who will "aggressively support" the president's plan to abolish the SBA.