A computer study by the General Accounting Office has found that at least 271 Virginia and District residents improperly collected more than $730,000 in unemployment benefits while they were receiving federal pensions or while they were imprisoned.

Sen. David Pryor (D-Ark.), who requested the study, said that if that much money was improperly paid in two jurisdictions, then "millions could be saved nationwide" by careful computerized cross-checking of the lists of persons collecting pension checks and those receiving unemployment benefits.

A GAO report had concluded last year that millions of dollars might have been lost because federal agencies were failing to supply state unemployment offices with timely and accurate data on civilian and military retirees collecting pensions that render them ineligible for jobless benefits.

The latest study also turned up 50 prison inmates--48 of them in the District and two in Virginia--who were receiving unemployment benefits.

The GAO said that at least 30 of those prisoners incorrectly were paid benefits totaling $26,000.

Prisoners are not entitled to benefits because unemployment laws require that recipients be available for work.

The GAO also studied Maryland's unemployment rolls and found 112 cases of persons simultaneously receiving some pension and unemployment benefits.

But Pryor said the GAO suggested that these payments were allowable because Maryland law is not as restrictive as the District or Virginia regarding deduction of pensions when computing eligibility for unemployment pay.

Pryor said that the GAO's "computer-matching" shows the potential for huge savings if the effort is repeated nationwide.

He said that the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management have arranged to provide states with computer tapes of current and retired federal workers in order to perform similar computer matches with their unemployment rolls.