Recommendations by the chairman of the White House AIDS commission are drawing rave reviews from public figures active in the field - along with a challenge to President Reagan to make good on the suggestions.

The cornerstone of the 579 recommendations laid out Thursday by retired Navy Adm. James D. Watkins is his call for strong federal anti-discrimination protection for people infected with the AIDS virus.The administration is on record - through Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen - as opposing federal legislation, saying the issue should be addressed at the state and local level.

"The AIDS commission is giving us sound recommendations," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "I hope the president will follow his own commission's advice."

Waxman is among several members of Congress pushing for anti-discrimination legislation.

Tim Sweeney, deputy executive director of the New York-based Gay Men's Health Crisis, termed the report "courageous, aggressive and compassionate."

"We challenge the president, Congress and presidential candidates to respond to this report by implementing its recommendations," said Sweeney.

Paul Kawata, director of the National AIDS Network, applauded most of the report, particularly the sections calling for more financial support for community-based AIDS groups. The National AIDS Network is an umbrella organization covering more than 450 such local education and service agencies.

Bailus Walker Jr., the former Massachusetts health commissioner who heads the American Public Health Association, a private organization of health professionals, said the recommendations "are a rational, intelligent and compassionate response to the epidemic" and should "serve as a blueprint for a coordinated federal, state and local program designed to address the full scope of the problem."

Most of the 269-page draft recommendations Watkins issued Thursday are expected to be adopted with little substantive change by the full commission and become its final report to the White House on June 24.

Watkins told reporters the proposals represent "my estimate of consensus within the commission," with the exception of a final chapter which was not discussed in advance with other commissioners.

In that chapter, Watkins calls for legislation giving the surgeon general sweeping powers to deal with future national medical emergencies that would be declared by a president.

The report went on to call for "federal legislation which clearly provides comprehensive anti-discrimination protection for HIV-infected individuals."

"HIV-related discrimination is impairing this nation's ability to limit the spread of the epidemic," Watkins' report said. "As long as discrimination occurs, and no strong national policy with rapid and effective remedies against discrimination is established, individuals who are infected with the HIV (he AIDS virus) will be reluctant to come forward for testing, counseling and care."

Watkins said implementing all his recommendations probably would call for spending about $3 billion a year more than is now being budgeted for AIDS. About half that would be for expanded drug treatment programs, a cornerstone of the commission's interim report.