Earlier this year, Congress overwhelmingly passed a tougher ethics bill for top officials and staff of the executive branch. And for the first time, Congress put some restrictions on lobbying by its own former members and their staffs.

Thus it was a serious disappointment when President Reagan said he will let the bill die without his signature at midnight Friday.Reagan said the measure was flawed and discriminatory and would discourage people from serving in government. That seems like an exaggeration. The only people who might be discouraged would be those who would seek to cash in on their government service after they leave office.

The bill, known as the Post-Employment Restriction Act, would have imposed new restrictions on influence peddling by former federal officials and members of Congress for one year after they leave office. The bill marked the first time Congress put any limits on itself.

The measure was prompted in part by the conviction of several former senior officials in the Reagan administration on charges that they improperly used government connections to enrich themselves.

If there is a complaint about the ethics bill, it might be that it doesn't go far enough. Merely putting a 12-month limit on former officials before they can get into the lobbying business hardly can be described as a major roadblock in the way of talented and public-minded people serving in government.

Rather than discouraging public service, a tough measure might ensure that government gets the kind of people it needs.

Fortunately, President-elect George Bush seems to have a good grasp of the situation. He not only supported the ethics bill during his campaign, but said earlier this week that if Reagan vetoes the measure, he will come back with his own tough legislation next year.

That's good news indeed and a strong ethics bill should have no trouble clearing Congress, even though some members may have to swallow hard in being covered by its provisions.

Bush is looking very presidential on this one.