AFTER YEARS of litigation and plenty of acrimony, the Office of Personnel Management has now issued final regulations concerning the federal government's charity fund drive. The Combined Federal Campaign, begun 25 years ago to regularize charitable collections in federal work places, now raises well over $100 million a year. Every federal installation, civil and military, all over the world is involved, and the government subsidizes the effort with personnel, publicity, paper work and payroll deductions.

Traditionally, the beneficiaries of the drive were charitable organizations working in health and welfare areas. But in 1980, advocacy groups -- lobbyists and litigators who were nonprofit and tax exempt -- were added to the list of participants. That's when the trouble started, for the people who would be happy to give to the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and the Sierra Club, for example, were not as pleased to share the pot with the National Right to Work folks and the NRA's offshoot, the Firearms Civil Rights Legal Defense Fund. The feeling, of course, was mutual. By 1983, unions with more than a third of a million members were boycotting the drive and employee participation had fallen from 70.6 percent to 54.5 percent. President Reagan issued an executive order that year directing OPM to limit participation to health and welfare groups, and that order was contested until the Supreme Court upheld it last July.

The new regulations, which go into effect next month, are fair and make sense. Federal employees, like all citizens, retain the right to contribute to whatever charity they choose, and many excellent advocacy groups deserve their support. The government, however, will only subsidize solicitation and collection at the office or duty station for those charities providing direct assistance to the needy in this country and abroad. Such assistance includes health care and research, aid to the handicapped, rehabilitation services to delinquents, released convicts and addicts, services to victims of crime and abuse, famine and disaster relief, legal aid to the poor and general relief to children, the elderly and those in need. No organization that spends over 15 percent of its funds on lobbying or litigation can participate.

The regulations treat all organizations objectively whether they advocate liberal or conservative causes. They should put an end to resentment over the distribution of funds to controversial groups and benefit those organizations whose work directly benefits the sick, the poor and other afflicted persons. That is what the charity fund drive should be about.