More than a quarter of all government publications have bitten the dust since the Reagan administration took office, including "How to Buy a Christmas Tree," "A Day in the Life of a Lizard" and "Trees at Fort Leavenworth."

But the surviving 12,000 are fodder for continuing controversy over whether the campaign has gone far enough or too far, whether it has gone after the fattest targets or whether it has mowed down some useful consumer publications while leaving the more ideologically oriented publications intact.

This is a case study of one of the most controversial remaining publications: Management magazine. A slick, glossy publication of the Office of Personnel Management for the government's top managers, Management costs $1.07 a copy to print. It sells 25,000 copies at a bulk rate and has 2,600 individual subscribers.

It brings messages from economists Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell and the Heritage Foundation. Here's where a former federal worker says, "Losing my federal job is the best thing that ever happened to me." Here's where a guest editor promises that conservatives will staff the 1988 administration with the "smartest, toughest, most virile class of appointees ever to invade the public sector."

Here applicants at the Office of Management and Budget are jokingly advised to rub a Brillo pad along the edge of a new Adam Smith tie to avoid looking like a conservative parvenu. The costs of facelifts and eyelid surgery are reported. Government managers are informed that tall men earn $3,600 more every year than their short colleagues.

Almost an entire issue was devoted to "Top 40 performers," the finest young professional supervisory and executive level employes working in the federal village," as selected by the magazine staff.

In a poll, more than half described themselves as conservative or very conservative, Management reported. Half of them drive Hondas "or similar cars," 17 percent drive Mercedes, the second most popular car. More than 80 percent dress for success in formal business clothes. At least two of Management magazine's top choices had left the government before the article was written.

The list has drawn fire as not being broadly representative of the career bureaucracy that manages the government's day-to-day business. But the magazine approvingly quotes one public affairs official wondering, out of a work force of 2.1 million, "how many -- if any -- " ground-breakers were left to receive next year's awards.

Some readers have lauded Management for trying to move beyond the dull, gray world of journalism, for praising good performance, for holding up role models for the rest of the work force, and for trying to increase the prestige of Washington's managers.

Others ridicule Management as propaganda.

"An incoming Democratic administration would view Management magazine as a leading case of fraud, waste and abuse," said Timothy Clark, editor of Government Executive, a competing, private-sector publication.

James Lafferty, the OPM public affairs director under whose umbrella the magazine falls, defends Management strongly as one of the few ways the administration has to get its message across to the thousands of managers who must carry it out. "No other publication puts the political spin on issues affecting civil servants," he said. "It explains the policy dimensions of some of what we are trying to do."

The Adam Smith tie anecedote merely represents an effort to lighten the heavy fare of management topics, he said.

Management magazine is, in effect, the government manager's house organ. With all the taboos and imperatives of any in-house publication, Management's editors see themselves as walking the fine line between being sprightly enough to attract readers while offering serious policy information.

There is something of a science to the publication of employe magazines that are designed to get across the boss' message without being dismissed as propaganda. As Paul Arvidson, human resources manager at JPI Transportation Products Inc. recently wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "Most companies don't want to appear silly or flippant nor, on the other hand, too rigid or callous. They want their newsletter to sing of competence, confidence and friendliness."

Achieving this is another matter. Alan K. (Scotty) Campbell, the founder of Management, describes the publication conceived as an academic journal for government executives as today "a little heavy on the ideology."

"I don't mind glossing things up," said Robert Woodrum, former editor of Management. "But you don't have to turn to Dagwood and Blondie to help federal managers improve themselves."

Added Clark, "The magazine does not appear to serve any serious purpose, but rather to be a matter of presenting ideology. Ronald Reagan does a very good job at this himself."

But Herb Berkowitz, public relations director of the Heritage Foundation, said that Management is "probably the best publication put out by the government."

Asked whether it should exist, he said he would be "happy to see them do away with every taxpayer-supported publication."

Max Sherman, dean of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas in Austin, called it "a publication worth trying to keep alive . . . ; recent issues are not quite as strident," and, he said, the issue of government management is an important one that is difficult to make interesting.

Within the past year, quarterly issues of Management have been devoted to "privatization" and "risk-taking."

Under the heading "Managerial Scoop on Unions," an OPM lawyer raises the possibility of "clarifying matters" -- which unions view as a polite phrase for kicking them out -- when a substantial part of an office is privatized.

One of the risk-takers singled out for praise is William Penn Mott Jr., head of the National Park Service. His risk was attacking the vast array of political placards in Lafayette Park.

One issue handed out an award to "Defense Management Journal" for excellence just as the journal was being killed by the Pentagon. The award was given out in the very next issue after Defense Management Journal interviewed OPM's director. Lafferty described this as a coincidence, saying the employes who made the award were unaware of the interview.

Management labors under what it considers marketing handicaps and can't pay its guest writers -- such as former senator Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr. -- author fees. But it also has an advantage rare in the business world: the taxpayers foot the bill.

In the greater scheme of the government, Management does not warrant an asterisk in the budget. It sells 25,003 copies at a bulk rate, has 2,600 subscribers at $13 a year, goes to 819 libraries, and is given away to 4,000 reporters and others by OPM.

When Reagan cracked down on government printing, OPM Director Constance J. Horner was required to justify Management's existence every year to the OMB. She had to "certify in writing that it is necessary in the transaction of public business required by law of the department, office or establishment."

The critics of Management said its very existence shows how political the process is.