The chairman of a House Public Works subcommittee, fearful that a $164 million price tag for a new Government Printing Office facility may prove politically unpalatable in Congress, charted a "go slow" course last week on the project!

Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-Calif.), who heads the subcommittee on federal buildings and grounds, suggested that he might support a $16 million outlay this year to buy a 33-acre site in Northeast Washington and prepare it for future construction - perhaps of a scaled-down facility.

The site is alongside Brentwood Road NE, between New York and Rhode Island Avenues, about two miles north of the Capitol. It adjoins Metro's Rhode Island Avenue train station. The location is one of 18 in the area that were considered.

The GPO itself does about 30 per cent of the federal government's massive printing work, including the daily Congressional Record, andis responsible for purchasing the remaining 70 per cent from private industry. The government's printing bill exceeds $500 million a year.

Mineta siad he became convinced of the need to deal with the problems of GPO's outmoded, multi-storied printing plant on North Capitol Street near Union Station, partly as a result of a tour of the facility early last week.

During two days of hearings that ended without decision, members of the House Panel suggested that some of the work done by GPO's 8,600 employees might be moved to other locations.

Mineta said such functions as the stocking and mailing of government documents by the GPO's superintendent of documents "might be performed at a lower cost if they were performed outside the Washington metropolitan area."

Rep. Bo Ginn (D-Ga.) asked whether functions of GPO could not be moved "to St. Louis or Atlanta or Savannah, Ga., more specifically." Ginn represents Savannah.

Thomas F. McCormick, the boss of GPO whose title is "public printer of the United States," said the chief functions of his agency are the production of re- ports, legislative bills and other documents often needed overnight by Congress and government agencies in the capital city.

McCormick estimated that GPO would save at least $16 million a year in the cost of handling materials, chiefly paper, as the result of having a single location of modern design on one level.

GPO now uses a dozen locations around the metropolitan area. The oldest part of its North Capitol Street plant is 74 years old.

Mineta and the ranking minority member of his subcommittee, Rep. William F. Walsh (R-N.Y.), questioned McCormick and others closely on the proposal, Partly because the law under which federal buildings ordinarily are authorized puts an unusual responsibility on the two congressional Public Works committees.

Under the law, the proposal for a new GPO plant was presented in the form of a "prospectus." If the House and Senate Public Works committees approve that prospectus, the project is authorized without any action needed by the full House or Senate.

Once the project is approved, Appropriations Committees can recommend that Congress provide the needed money. At that point, the project would be vulnerable to attack by critics or by economy-minded lawmakers if a good case were not made for carrying it out.

During the hearing, Mineta noted that Congress in 1964 authorized a slightly larger GPO facility that would have cost $47 million, less than one-third the cost of the facility now planned. It was never built. GPO wanted to locate it at what is now the Fort Lincoln "new town" site in far Northeast Washington, but was balked by opposition from the private printing industry and ultimately by the National Capital Planning Commission.

During the hearings, the planning commission, the printing industry, the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade and organized labor joined in support of the Brentwood Road proposal.