The acting head of National Public Radio yesterday told staff members he prefers a 20 percent cut in the news and public affairs budget and has not yet decided on holding a national fund-raising drive.

Ronald Bornstein, reacting to a letter signed by 31 staff members protesting proposed programming cuts and urging a fund-raising effort, said after the meeting: "That 20 percent might mean contractual services, the support staff. The last thing we would want to impact on is on-air production."

At another meeting last week, staff members had been warned that the "worst case scenario" would be a cut of 40 percent.

A proposed budget of $4.6 million, said Bornstein and Barbara Cohen, vice president and managing editor of news and information, could mean elimination of up to 15 jobs, possibly field reporters, or the weekend version of "All Things Considered," or some bureaus.

Bornstein said the budget, one of three being considered, also could mean further elimination of performance programming. "If the board in its wisdom believes that they should eliminate those services, I would support that," he said.

Some staff members reacted strongly to the delay in deciding on fund raising. Said one reporter: "We feel that if the people the listeners are interested in aren't there, and the quality is gone, then why would people respond at that point? And Bornstein said that's a risk he would have to take." The meeting with Bornstein was described as "demoralizing."

Later, Bornstein said he hadn't totally discounted the fund-raising approach but was waiting for a report from a special committee set up by the NPR board to find ways to solve a $5.8 million deficit.

The staff letter, signed by 31 of the best known NPR employes, including hosts Susan Stamberg of "All Things Considered," and Bob Edwards of "Morning Edition," said, "We believe NPR's strategy to solve our current crisis should be first to raise as much money as possible from outside sources, to retain 'All Things Considered,' 'Weekend All Things Considered' and 'Morning Edition' at close to their current levels of funding. Programs should be cut only after fund-raising efforts have been exhausted--and only then as a last resort."

Besides asking for "an aggressive national fund-raising campaign," the staff letter asked for leadership in the fight to preserve the award-winning programming and asked if the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was pulling political strings with the new management. Bornstein said the question was "outrageous."