Led by Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), several of the taxpayer's friends on Capitol Hill have been looking into abuses in the federal government's use of private consultants.

When it was Adm. H. G. Rickover'sturn to testify, the 80-year-old father of the nuclear submarine told a committee hearing that he hasn't hired an outside consultant in 20 years. As far as Rickover is concerned, you could take the whole lot of them out and drown them without hurting the government's effectiveness.

The consultants were predictably aghast at such heresy, and said so. "Think tanks" are big business in Washington, are represented by a high-powered industry association calledThe National Council of Professional Service Firms. These firms sell millions and millions of dollars worth of their services to Uncle Sugar each year, but a recent series of articles in The Washington Post raised serious questions about abuses in the awarding of contracts to consultants, the quality and value of the work they do, and the actual use to which consultants' studies are put.

Many members of Congress had alreadybegun to wonder whether the taxpayer is getting his money's worth from consultants. Now the congressmen are trying to determine whether the system is in need of reform.

I think we will have to leave it to the Congress to study each specific example of what is alleged to be abuse and then, when the committee's investigation is finished, to form an opinion about this widespread practice of farming out government work to outsiders. However, even before the committee forms that judgement, it may be well to ask some questions and state some general viewpoints.

For example, one can well wonder why the government must so frequently turn to private firms to buy research ofa kind that dozens of government agencies need regularly. Does the government hire a private detective agency to investigate each theft from a national bank? Of course not. It uses its "in-house" detective agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Then why can't the government set up a similar service designed to provide all government agencies with the research, surveys, polls, planning and various other management tools that everybody knows they will need?

The practice of "contracting out" work instead of doing it with people who work for the government is a handy subterfuge for administrations that want to hide the number of people who are really on the federal payroll. But it transfers the government's reaponsibilities to private contractors (a dubious practice when official policyis affected), and in the past it has set up lush profits for companies with inside connections.

The way it works, in many cases, is that a government employee resigns, than either goes to work for a consultant or forms his own consulting firm. Thereafter the former government employee sells back to the government the expertise he acquired while working for the government -- except now the price is much higher.

Obviously, something must be done to curb abuses in expensive contracts awarded to private consultants. Rickover's suggestion for cutting down the waste in consulting programs was twofold: reduce the funds available for consulting contractsand make them "more visible," so that Congress, the press and the public can keep a sharper eye on the hanky-panky.

This sounds like a pretty good plan, but perhaps we shouldn't rush into it without having a careful study made by an outside consultant. Do you happen to know a good, reliable consultant we could consult about hiring a team of reliable consultants to do a critique of Rickover's suggestion?

We won't need to look for a consultant to make a study of the consultant's critique of the Rickover plan because we already have a good man in-house: Rickover. I'm sure he'd be delighted to do the job free. THESE MODERN TIMES

A recent letter ended with, "Please excuse the typos as I do not have a computor to give me corrected copy."

If there is a computer that corrects typographical errors on its own initiative, I would certainly like to make its acquaintance. A computer is no smarter than its operator.

As a matter of fact, some modern dictionaries now list the word GIGO as an American coinage. (GIGO is an acronym for "garbage in, garbage out." It means that if bad information is putinto a computer, the computer will put out bad information. STATE DEPT., PLEASE NOTE

"A friend, Jerry Koch of Alexandria, makes this suggestion: If some of the Cubans who came here don't want to stay, and if there are some we don't want to keep but Castro doesn't want them either, we should ship them to our base at Guantanamo Bay -- and thenhelp them 'escape."'