Key leaders of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee, which overseas regulation of the trucking industry, have asked the Interstate Commerce Committe to halt its attempts to partially deregulate the industry administratively.

In a letter to ICC Chairman A. Daniel O'Neal, full committee Chairman Harold T. (Bizz) Johnson (D-Calif.) and Surface Transportation Subcommittee Chairman James J. Howard (D-N.J.) complained that the ICC recently has engaged in "a great deal of activity aimed at changing the scope and application" of economic regulation of the trucking industry.

Many of the changes "significantly alter" the way in which the industry is regulated, they contend. Johnson and Howard said that although they believe some of the policy changes should be implemented by the commission, they do not believe most of them should.

They urged the commission to "stop its program" of adopting and implmenting new policies until the House Committee has held hearings on trucking deregulation and Congress has an opportunity to decide whether substantial changes are "necessary."

In recent months, the ICC has made several proposals that would roll back some of its regulation in an effort to reduce the protections trucking companies have been provided over the years and to inject some additional competition.

"I believe we've operating within our statutory obligations," O'Neal said after an initial look at the legislators' letter. A full answer is now being prepared. A spokesman for the ICC said the agency has received congressional comments on both sides of the issue and is looking forward to sharing its views with Congress.

Trucking deregulation is shaping up to be an important and controversial legislative battle during the next Congress; an interagency task force headed by the Transportation Department is drawing up legislation that would deregulate the trucking industry substantially.