Planning Research Corp., a Wasington-based consulting firm with sales approaching $300 million, is in the midst of a major, top-level management study that could reshape the company's focus and direction over the next 10 years.

PRC Chairman Robert Sarnoff and President John Toups said this week the study was prompted by a general feeling that because of the vast international scope of its operations, the company is missing a sense of focus and mission.

Toups has been PRC's chief executive officer since January 1978. Sarnoff gained national prominence as chief executive officer of RCA Corp. from 1968 to 1975 and has been with PRC since July 1979.

Toups said that PRC has been operating since its inception in California in 1954 "with the concept that it ought to be a mirror image of the entire professional services industry," that is, to try to offer virtually all consulting services.

That, Toups and Sarnoff agree, is the reason for the company's sluggish profits, slow-moving stock and its biggest debacle -- a $30 million loss that resulted from an ambitious, but ultimately disasterous, effort to start a large-scale computerized hotel reservation service in the early 1970s.

"When we shut that operation down, it almost broke our backs," Toups said. "We became very conservative for a while, and we pulled in our horses so much that it hurt us."

But Sarnoff says that, despite the blunders of previous management, he and Toups intend to revitalize a company whose challenges have come not only from within but from recent stinging congressional and press criticism of the entire consulting industry.

The key of the Sarnoff-Toups "10-year strategic plan" is moving PRC out of consulting fields that do not offer it long-term markets. They say that for too long PRC has let its approximately 20 units go their own way while at the same time treated its disparate business segments essentially as of equal importance.

"We're of a size now, and the external world is changing so, that the company requires greater coodination," Sarnoff said. "Everything cannot be treated equally.

"It's not a unique problem anymore,"

In essence, the growth of PRC has been so scattershot that management was unable to rein in subsidiaries that were basing their operations on stagnant lines of business.

The two executives point out further that the company was influenced for too long by a board (at one time it had 13 members) largely made up of executives of the smaller companies that PRC had gobbled up. Those board members did not have the experience to operate a company as large as PRC, Toups and Sarnoff say. So now the PRC board is made up of six outside and only three PRC staff directors, giving it a broader range of corporate experience.

The company specializes in architecture and engingeering work, and systems engineering and computer work but has moved too slowly away from big constructions-type projects and into the computer and communications endeavors that most business planners agree will be the hallmark of business growth in the coming decade, the two executives note.

"During the Fifties and Sixties, there was a construction binge in this country." Toups said. "Now we've slowed down on that. Because of environmental and economic concerns, the construction business in the last five years has not been a booming industry. We need fast-growing markets."

The company's largest current federal contract is with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, from which PRC has won six one-year contracts of $25 million apiece to run the government's computers at Cape Canaveral.

The two executives hope that the future for the PRC-government relationship is not necessarily in the space arena but instead in a variety of energy- and defense-related projects such as the forthcoming massive federal effort to create synthetic fuels and the potential vast development of the West accompanying the MX missile project.

But Toups also says the company, which did about 56 percent of its business with federal and local governments last year, will move increasingly into the private sector. "We'll go below half [its business with government] within five years," he predicted.

Management confidence in PRC's future is secure enough, however, that on about July 1 the company will move possibly all its top staff from its current headquarters on K Street and bout 1,200 to 1,500 other employes at seven sites around the Washington area to a massive new facility under construction near Tysons Corner.The building, which PRC will lease, will be the largest single-teant, privately occupied building in the area.

And that confidence in the company's future direction comes despite the recent flap about the consulting business which Toups and Sarnoff say is part of a regular debate about the role of the private sector in performing government work. It is government not the "professional services" industry, that should take most of the blame for inadequate consullting contracts, the two executives maintain.

"Shoddy consultant areanindictment of government employes who are supposed to be managing and scrutinizing contracted work," Sarnoff said.