Energy Secretary James Edwards meets with President Reagan today to ask for $920 million in mercy for his doomed department. A plan for the final bureaucratic demolition, which could occur in 1983 and would preserve some DOE functions, will go to Congress "by the first of the year," Edwards said yesterday.

Edwards told Washington Post editors and reporters at a luncheon meeting that rolling back $920 million from 1983 cuts proposed by the Office of Management and Budget will be "really essential for continuing administration programs." Although Edwards had expected to work himself out of a job by the end of 1982, it now appears that the DOE will exist into 1983, he said.

Edwards noted that his original 1983 request was $14.4 billion, a $3.3 billion cut from 1982 levels, but that he had lowered it painfully to $11.6 billion at the request of the president. The OMB now has come back with another $1.5 billion reduction.

"We're cutting into the gristle right now" without the new reduction, Edwards said. Until Congress acts, the DOE must stay in operation, and that requires funding. "You'd think I was the one resisting the cuts, and in reality I'm here to close the place down," Edwards said. "But even a closeout needs manpower."

In a letter of appeal sent to OMB Director David Stockman on Nov. 24, Edwards asked restoration of $279 million for nuclear-waste-handling pilot projects, nuclear fusion research and proliferation safeguards work. He wants back $203 million for conventional nuclear research and the Clinch River Breeder Reactor and $198 million, "the bare minimum we can accept," for fossil energy research.

A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Post from sources outside the DOE.

The department needs $57 million for the Energy Information Agency "to turn data into information" and $12 million for environmental and nuclear safety work, while $96 million should be restored to continue personnel work, the letter said. The balance of the $920 million request covers a variety of other programs.

The OMB's proposed 1983 employe count of 13,490 would be a reduction of 22 percent--or 3,874 positions--from 1982 levels, or more than one-third below current strength. "We have grave problems with a reduction of this magnitude," Edwards wrote. He asked that the job level be 15,490 slots.

Many of the DOE's functions could be transferred either to the Department of Interior or Department of Commerce, Edwards said: energy information, research and development and high-energy physics work. The DOE's $6 billion defense program, which makes bomb materials, also would be a part of this shift. Other sources, however, indicate that chances of defense work winding up at the Interior Department are very remote.

DOE programs that will vanish include its demonstration and comunity projects, alcohol fuel and conservation grant programs, fossil fuel research and development and solar research funds. Solar tax credits will be used instead, Edwards said.

The secretary defended his reluctance to set up any kind of contingency market or price controls for a possible future oil import crisis, saying oil reserves are set up to cushion the shock. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve will reach 250 million barrels in January, and he said the oil industry has another 400 million barrels in stock, which would be a 50-day supply if half of U.S. oil imports were cut off.

That is unlikely, Edwards said. "I just can't visualize a cutoff that couldn't be handled with 650 million barrels of oil," he said. Distribution and transportation facilities are in place, and up to 4 million barrels a day could be drawn down in a crisis and placed on the market, he said. U.S. oil imports in September averaged 4.2 million barrels a day, according to DOE figures.