Reed Harris, 72, a writer, publisher and former State Department official who was driven from government for a time after a highly publicized confrontation with the late Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy (R-Wis.), died Oct. 15 at Holy Cross Hospital. He had a heart ailment and Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Harris, who lived in Bethesda, was deputy administrator of the State Department's International Information Administration when he was summoned before the McCarthy committee in 1953 to answer questions about the operation of his agency and his personal background.

During five days of intense testimony, McCarthy accused him of being a communist. Mr. Harris denied it and told McCarthy that he was using innuendo and half-truths to smear innocent people. Parts of his testimony were used in a 1954 CBS television installment of Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now." The program focused on the life and tactics of the Wisconsin senator and the anticommunist hysteria he engendered.

Mr. Harris resigned from the State Department shortly after his testimony. Some 550 State Department employes attended a reception in his honor at a Washington hotel to say goodbye.

Mr. Harris set up a local business publishing trade journals.

In 1961, he was called back to government as executive assistant to the director of the U.S. Information Agency, Edward R. Murrow. This was the agency's fourth highest post.

The Washington Post greeted his return to government in an editorial that said, "an old wrong is now being partly righted. Some things have indeed changed for the better."

Mr. Harris retired from the USIA in 1973 as an assistant director. He then spent two years as president of the Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge, Pa.

He was a vice president of the International Club and served on the national executive committee of AMVETS in the early 1960s.

Mr. Harris was a native of New York City. He was expelled from Columbia University when, as editor of the student newspaper, he published an article charging that a dining room contract had been quietly awarded to the sister of the university president.

He was a newspaper reporter and advertising executive in New York City and worked for the Works Progress Administration and the Office of War Information before serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II. He joined the State Department in 1945.

His first wife, the former Martha M. Tellier, died in 1966. His second wife, the former Mary Mateer West, died in 1981.

Survivors include three children by his first marriage, Robert Reed Harris of Cromwell, Conn., Donald Reed Harris of Germantown, Md., and Ann Shapleigh of Yellow Springs, Ohio; a sister, Barbara Slater of South Glens Falls, N.Y., and three grandchildren.