A National Endowment for the Humanities budget request of $1 million for relocation expenses came under question yesterday at a Capitol Hill hearing on the endowment's appropriation request for fiscal year 1981.

The request came under close scrutiny by the Appropriations Committee's Interior subcommittee because $700,000 of that money, requested for the budget beginning next October, is for new furniture.

"Can't you use some of the old furniture?" asked Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ark.) the only senator at the hearing.

Endowment chairman Joseph Duffey explained that the General Services Administration which instigated the move of the NEH from its downtown 15th Street offices to the Old Post Office building at 13th and Pennsylvania, told endowment officials they could not use their old furniture.

"We'll be using systems furniture," said John Whitelaw, deputy chairman for management at the endowment. "I think GSA believes they can save floor space and get more people in the offices with modular furniture. Other agencies and corporations have it. I think [the Senate's] question is not with us but with GSA. And they know that."

Whitelaw said the NEH is scheduled to move into the Old Post Office in September 1981, the end of its fiscal year.

Overall, the endowment has requested an increase of $14.2 million for next year's budget -- making a total request of $164.3 million.

DeConcini said he hoped all of the budget request would be funded, but asked the endowment nevertheless to figure out what it would do if its request was cut by 5 percent.