Greater Washington uses its labor force more efficiently than any other major metropolitan area, but that record is marred by the relatively low occupational levels of women and black males, according to a new report on the local economy.

The report concludes that, despite the area's high level of efficiency, women and black males, particularly those with college degrees, are underutilized.

The report, titled "The Washington Labor Force: An Asset in a Changing Economy," cited discrimination as a major factor in the underutilization of women and black men. Officials of the Greater Washington Research Center, which commissioned the study from the Grier Partnership, a private consulting firm, agreed with that assessment -- with some reservations.

"The inability of black males, even those with college or graduate school educations, to obtain jobs commensurate with their educational achievements mars an otherwise exemplary labor force picture," authors George and Eunice Grier point out.

Although women are underused, their problem is not as severe, according to the study, which was scheduled to be released today.

Those gaps in the area's labor force notwithstanding, George Grier said, metropolitan Washington "comes out much better" than most regions. This region's labor force participation, for example, ranks second only to Houston among the 10-largest metropolitan areas. The participation rate of Washington's female labor force is the highest in the country.

Officials of the Greater Washington Research Center refused to assign a "conscious motive" for the underutilization, but Grier said, "I don't think you will find another satisfactory reason for the figures on black males other than discrimination."

R. Robert Linowes, chairman of the research center, concurred that there is no apparent conscious motive to discriminate against college-trained black males at the professional level. But he agreed that discrimination is a factor here as well as in other metropolitan areas.

Linowes added, "There is an increasing effort to overcome it. I think it would be wrong to expect that the problem of discrimination will be cured overnight. . . . We are perceiving some major movement to overcome that."

Philip M. Dearborn, the research center's vice president, described the relative inability of blacks to obtain jobs in keeping with their educational backgrounds as a "very complex" issue that requires further study.

"The most important finding is the superior quality of the work force," Grier said. "We have a superior labor force, and we're utilizing it well."

The report adds that while the overall quality of the area's labor force is exceptionally high, "certain identifiable segments of that labor force are significantly less well equipped to contribute than others."

The educational gap between whites and blacks has narrowed considerably, but still exists, the study says. Among area whites aged 25 and older, for example, nearly 86 percent have a high school education or better. Among blacks in the same age group, the figure is 64 percent. The study found, nonetheless, that the median education level of blacks in the area is 12.4 years, "which means that most have some college." SS imilarly, women in the Washington area have a history of S "unequal access to educational opportunities as well as to job opportunities," the study found. This history, the authors said, is reflected in a somewhat lower educational attainment than men.

The report is the fifth in a series commissioned by the research center as part of an in-depth review of the area's economy.