The White House is asking the departments of Defense and Energy to oversee the federal government's role in "supercomputer" development and deployment, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced yesterday.

Supercomputers can process enormous amounts of data at rates thousands of times faster than conventional computers. Control Data Corp. and Cray Research Co., both of Minnesota, are the leading U.S. manufacturers of supercomputers, but Japan--most notably in its Fifth Generation project--has pushed the competition in the field to a more advanced level of design.

The White House statement made clear that its effort was at least partly in response to the perceived threat of Japanese competition in the supercomputer area.

"We're watching this situation closely because the industry is fragile," said George A. Keyworth II, science adviser to President Reagan, "consisting of only a few manufacturers and relatively few customers. Our national interests require that we maintain a dependable domestic capabilty to meet our needs. We can't permit foreign manufacturers, whose development costs may be heavily subsidized by their governments, to jeopardize that capability."

The White House proposal is strictly organizational and no additional monies will be allocated to these efforts, an administration official said.