If the chief executive officer of a major company ran his business affairs in the same manner as the federal government does, he would lose his job.

There is almost no question this would be his fate because the board of directors, answerable to the shareholders, would be compelled to ask why, for example, he was unaware of the company's poor financial condition.And he wouldn't have a good answer.

They would ask why he made decisions based on inaccurate information, why his flow of information was inadequate, why it took so long to assemble, why he failed to take action until months after the problems had become crises.

The federal government has fought the problem but it hasn't succeeded, and elected and appointed officials still must make decisions on the basis of insufficient or unreliable information.

In the second quarter, based on the best evidence available to the Commerce Department in late July, the economy expanded at an annual rate of 1.2 percent - weak, but still strong enough to convince officials to refrain from taking action.

This week, three months after the second quarter ended, it became known to the president that the economy had been failing in that period, just skirting recession, growing at a bare four-tenths of a percent.

The White House expressed surprise and concern, and Michael Boskin, the White House chief economic adviser, conceded the economy was now on a weaker path than had been known. The administration halved its earlier projections.

While the Federal Reserve has its own data retrieval methods, by means of which it seeks to anticipate and fine-tune the economic direction, it too must have been surprised by the tardy news. You can't foresee with ancient data.

The situation points up the problem of running an economy so huge that data cannot be assembled in time to act. Not only does its collection take time, but when assembled it is incredibly complex, making it subject to revision.

It is such a revision that now reveals the April-June economy was tripping on a tightrope rather than steady on its feet as officials had believed, in spite of fears expressed by private economists and business people.

The problem has existed since economic statistics were first gathered, but it becomes more serious when the economy is walking the line between recession and expansion, as it is now, or when efforts are made to fine tune.

Fine tuning, defined more by the attempt than the accomplishment, seeks to deal with the economy over shorter periods of time than is usually the case - by the month or even week, for example, rather than the quarter or the year.

In the Federal Reserve's area of authority it would mean keeping an especially close watch, among other things, on the money supply and interest rates, which of course rely on accurate measurements of economic activity.

Generally speaking, economists both in and out of government have no choice but to use official statistics in analyzing business and economic conditions, but some private-sector economists have recently complained about inaccuracies.

Some, in fact, have devised their own computer-aided techniques for gathering and analyzing information, hoping to make themselves less reliant on the official statistics.

The latest revision, however, is an extremely critical one that presents a brand new perspective and forces changes in forecasts throughout government and industry, and it will add to the complaints.