One of the late Harry F. Byrd's enduring legacies has been the belief that Virginia, unlike the nation or other states, could manage its affairs with a relatively small, but dedicated bureaucracy.

It was a natural corollary to Byrd's pay-as-you-go fiscal philosophy and to the widespread acceptance Virginians have always placed in the values of limited government.

That's what makes so revealing a thick, somewhat wordy report released here last week by a group of prominent state legislators who compose the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission, or as it is better known here, JLARC (pronounced "Jay-lark")

For those who believe Sen. Byrd's legacy still rules supreme in the Virginia bureaucracy, the report can be jarring.

What, for instance, is the state agency charged with policing commercial fishermen doing with a 57-foot yacht?

Why did a respected state institution spend $489,000 on converting a 144-foot Navy minesweeper into a deep sea research vessel that had been used only 28 days as of June?

How did the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, a respected research and education facility, get so deeply in debt in a state that is supposed to be largely debt-free?

The answers to these questions, the report suggests, come from state programs that are, for the most part "fragmented, uncoordinated, and inefficient." Virginia has three separate agencies dealing with the field of "marine resources" yet "no sinle agency is authorized" to "plan and manage" these vast resources, the report complains.

Like much of the state's bureaucracy, these three marine agencies have grown rapidly in recent years, so rapidly that their receipt of state and federal monies has sometimes been faster than the agencies' abilities to manage it.

There was a hint of all this trouble last year when a grand jury indicted William J. Hargis, director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences on charges of mishandling some state-owned boat engines. The charges were quickly dismissed when brought before a judge, but there was general knowledge then that the institute's financial affairs were far from perfect.

How poorly managed they are is apparent from new reports, which say the institute would often borrow funds from the state's general fund to meet its cash flow problems. At the end of June, the institute was $4 million in debt and had apparently violated the state's Appropriations Act by spending more money than it was appropriated, the report says.

One prime cause of the institute's money problems was its 1975 decision to convert a Navy minesweeper into a deep sea research vessel that would operate out of the institute's Gloucester Point facility.

Renamed the "Virginia Sea", the vessel, as of June, had put in only 28 days of work. That was far from enough to have justified the huge overrun of its conversion, the report says. Equally troublesome4, is the report's statement that no research work for the ship exists after July 1978.

Then, there is the 57-foot yacht Chesapeake which the audit commission said was listed as a patrol boat by the Marine Resources Commission, the agency that polices most commercial fishermen in Virginia. The Chesapeake, however, "appears no more appropriate for law enforcement patrol purposes than its predecessor," a 51-foot yacht that the commission sold last summer, the report says.

The Chesapeake is berthed on the Eastern Shore but it is rarely used, the audit commission said.

What the audit commission didn't say is that the Chesapeake is also called "the governor's yacht," because it has been used by the state's chief executives and others for fishing trips.

The Virginia Bureau of Shellfish Sanitations, part of the state health department, comes off the best of the three agencies reviewed in the report. But even here there are disquieting suggestions that the Food and Drug Administration is unhappy with the agency's work in checking the sanitary quality of fish and shellfish taken in Virginia waters.

Citing the likelihood of even tougher federal oyster standards, the report also raises the possibility that Virginia might have to spend up to $2 million to improve the bureau's operations.

All in all, the picture that emerges hardly is in keeping with the frugal, small state government that Byrd envisioned.

A closer look at what has happened to the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, however, gives a better view of the orignis of many of the problems facing the state government today. Money - both an abundance of it from some sources and a lack of it from other sources - are behind the institute's troubles.

Virginia's government has grown rapidly in recent years, 13 per cent a year in expenditures, the past General Assembly has told. The Gloucester Point facility, known around the world for its reseach, has shared in that growth. For the biennial budget of 1966-68 the institute received $1.8 million in state and federal funds; this biennium it is scheduled to get $10.6 million. In addition the institute has $15.6 million in contracts and grants.

VIMS Director hargis says the state should be grateful for the institute's ability to get outside funds. In his 29-page typewritten response to the report, Hargis takes bitter exception with many of the audit commission's findings.

"VIMS has always been forced to operate 'on the cheap,'" he says at one point. "The Commonwealth has been parsimonious in this regard! . . . Further we are forced to use the greatest assortment of junk buildings, converted dwellings and trailers of any scientific and educational organization in state government. . ."

Marine Resources Commissioner James E. Douglas Jr., in a nine-page response, conceded many of the faults the commission found with his agency. But he suggested that one reason his commission's administrative and finance practices may be weak is that many positions in that area have had to go vacant in the name of economy.

Douglas' most noteworthy complaint, however, may have been directed to the very legislators who were investigating him: "But waht I do want is for the Legislature to assuem their responsibility . . . to establish social goals to be achieved in the use of our fisheries resources and from time to time, sit with me as we examine on a systematic basis the best approaches to achieving those goals . . . And remember, a nebulous programs with nebulous accomplishments."

If Douglas is correct, then the legislature doesn't have too look far for to find solutions to the troubles the state is having on its own waters.