Joel Bernstein, 58, who retired from the Agency for International Development in 1974 as assistant administrator in charge of the technical assistance bureau, died of cancer Tuesday at the Washington Home Hospice.

Dr. Bernstein spent more than 25 years in government foreign assistance programs, beginning with the Economic Cooperation Administration, which was set up in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan.

After retiring from the government in 1974, he was a project director for the National Academy of Sciences. He organized a conference on technical exchange programs that took place in Vienna, Austria, last summer.

Dr. Berstein was born in Chicago and earned a bachlor's degree from the University of Chicago. He served in the Army in Europe in World War II and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. He later earned master's and doctor's degrees in economics at Chicago and did further work at the London School of Economics.

He began his career with the Economic Cooperation Administration in London. When the ECA became the Mutual Security Agency, Dr. Bernstein worked in its European headquarters in Paris. When the Foreign Operations Administration took over the functions of the MSA, Dr. Bernstein was named chief of staff of its operations in Italy and also served as economic minister in the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

In 1955, when the International Cooperation Administration was formed Dr. Bernstein was assigned to its Washington headquartes. Except for a brief assignment in Liberia, he remained there until 1959, when he was named head of the ICA mission to Nigeria. He continued in that role when AID succeeded the ICA in 1961.

From 1964 to 1967, he was director of the AID mission to Korea. In 1967, he was transferred to Washington where he became director of program evaluation in the office of the AID administrator.

He was named assistant administrator in charge of the bureau of technical assistance in 1969 and continued in that position until his retirement in 1974. a

Dr. Bernstein twice received the Dinstinguished Honor Award from AID, the agency's highest decoration. He also was decorated by the government of South Korea.

Survivors include his wife, the former Merle A. Sloan of Chevy Chase, where the family lived; two children Jonathan Lewis Bernstein, of Los Angeles, and Deborah Lynn Bernstein, of Falls Church, and his mother, Lillie Bernstein of Washington.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Washington Home Hospice, 3720 Upton St. NW, Washington, D.C.