A House subcommittee has turned down a controversial Defense Department proposal to start shifting thousands of Navy personnel from rented offices in Northern Virginia to rehabilitated quarters at the Washington Navy Yard.

"Our limited defense dollars can be spent on better projects than this one," said Rep. Paul S. Trible (R-Va.), who led the subcommittee move to block the Navy plan. "I am not aware of any support for this proposal among the Navy employes who would have been relocated."

The Navy disclosed last summer that it was considering transferring 18,000 employes from several suburban Virginia offices to a new complex that would rival the Pentagon in size and be built at the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington along the Anacostia River. The consolidation, the Navy says, would cost $280 million but would result in "considerable" savings.

The plan was immediately denounced by Virginia members of Congress, who disputed the Navy's cost estimates and complained the move would disrupt rush-hour travel for thousands of Navy employes.

Aides to Trible yesterday cited revised Navy data, which they said showed savings of only $21.2 million over 30 years, markedly less than the service initially predicted. And they contended that the revised figures were marred by inaccurate estimates of leasing costs in Northern Virginia. Trible, who is seeking his party's nomination to succeed the retiring Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., asserted that the Navy proposal "would have resulted in no savings to the taxpayer."

The proposal rejected by the House Armed Services subcommittee on military installations and facilities represented the first step in the proposed Navy move. It would have authorized a $15.4 million shift of about 1,000 Navy employes from four office buildings in Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax County to rehabilitated Navy Yard quarters. The subcommittee eliminated the authorization during a markup session Tuesday.

The Navy issued a statement late yesterday, saying, "It would be inappropriate for the Navy to comment on this proposal at this time until full legislative action is completed."

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), whose Northern Virginia district includes many Navy employes, hailed the subcommittee action as "good news" for Northern Virginia commuters, businesses and county governments that receive tax revenues from office buildings. A spokesman for Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) said Warner remains opposed to a similar Navy authorization proposal now awaiting action by a Senate Armed Services subcommittee.