President Carter is expected to announce today a $1 million pilot program to help retrain and relocate Detroit-area auto and chemical workers whose jobs have been lost because of plant closings, the first element of a national industrial policy that the administration hopes to propose before election day.

The president will use his appearance before the National Urban League's annual meeting in New York City today to outline aspects of the new policy of particular importance to old industrial cities, which have felt the brunt of plant closings during the current recession, aides said.

Although administration officials continue to debate important options of an industrial policy, Carter is expected to begin unveiling aspects of the policy today to provide a positive answer to critics' demands for a stronger administration response to the current recession.

The president's economic policies were attacked repeatedly by his campaign opponents, Ronald Reagan, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Ill.) in their appearances this week before the Urban League.

The $1 million grant to the Downriver Community Conference -- which provides job training in Wyandotte, Mich., south of Detroit -- is to be the first of a large program in a dozen cities, to be announced early next year, administration officials said.

The Downriver program will provide special training and relocation assistance to about 2,000 former employes of Dana Corp., an auto parts supplier, and BASF Wyandotte, a chemical manufacturing plant, both in the Detroit area.

Significantly, the Labor Department funds for the Downriver project are being taken from other federal jobs programs, reflecting the intense pressure within the administration to hold down federal spending.

The Labor Department also expects to ask Congress to divert about $10 million in 1981 to expand the program to other cities. Not until the 1982 fiscal year, beginning in September 1981, will the department be seeking new funds from Congress to carry out the program, administration officials said. The request for that year is likely to be about $50 million, according to current plans.

The planning of an industrial policy, which began in earnest about two months ago, has been handicapped in other areas by the restraint on spending, officials said.

Leaders of auto and steel companies, which have been particularly battered during the recession, have hoped for major tax concessions tailored to their industries, but the costs of such help could run into the billions of dollars a year. How much the Carter administration will commit to an industrial policy in the next few years is not known.

But officials said a consensus is emerging within the administration on the rationale and outline of a policy meant to guide both industry, labor unions and government regulators in the 1980s.

An administration committee headed by Commerce Department officials has sent drafts of industrial policy options to the White Houses in recent weeks. Those familiar with the proposals say they deal with reasons why such a policy is needed now and how it should be designed generally but don't spell out a broad number of specific federal actions that should be taken.

A six-part policy proposal from the Commerce officials and other top-level administration planners includes a review of the new economic problems besetting U.S. industry, with a specific steel, textiles and high-technology products.