Continuing the transition at the top of the Republican National Committee, the newly designated chairman, William J. Bennett, has asked Wendell L. Willkie II, general counsel at the Commerce Department, to be deputy chairman of the party organization.

Sources said the title, a new one, was sought by Willkie. The job, the nuts and bolts operation of the RNC, is now held by Mary Matalin, the chief of staff. She is expected to leave her post in January, after the party's annual meeting.

Willkie is a longtime associate of Bennett and was chosen because of that relationship, not his knowledge of politics, the sources said.

Outgoing Chairman Lee Atwater and Matalin had been actively involved in running campaigns at various levels and had committed the RNC and its resources to helping elect candidates, mostly at the federal level.

Atwater, who is suffering from a brain tumor, served as President Bush's 1988 campaign chairman and worked in the three prior presidential contests and in the White House political operation. Matalin worked in both of Bush's presidential campaigns and in 1988 was in charge of Bush forces in several bitterly contested primaries in the Midwest.

Neither Bennett nor Willkie has run a campaign and neither has been highly involved in the business of politics, from polling to consultants to candidate recruitment.

Willkie, 39, is the grandson of the 1940 Republican presidential nominee. He served as chief of staff and then general counsel at the Education Department when Bennett was education secretary during the Reagan administration. He has been general counsel at the Commerce Department since Bush became president.

A graduate of Harvard College and the University of Chicago Law School, Willkie also has a master's degree in history from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes scholar.

Bennett's plans for Willkie are subject to approval by the RNC at its annual meeting next month, officials said, because a new job would be created by the committee.

Sources said a number of Republicans had recommended to Bennett that he attempt to keep Matalin, an Atwater protege, in place or bring aboard another political professional. It was unclear whether Bennett will make other major staff changes or bring to the RNC any of his former top aides from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

White House aides and others said yesterday that Matalin had recommended that Bennett select his own chief of staff, who also would serve as a general manager of the complex operation, and had agreed to stay on in a transition role.