Virginia officials announced yesterday that David K. McCloud, Gov. Charles S. Robb's chief of staff, will take over the day-to-day operations of the state's $30.2 million Center for Innovative Technology, which has been widely criticized for an inability to define its mission.

In a joint statement released in the governor's office, CIT officials and Robb said McCloud, who will be paid $97,500, also will act as the center's legislative liaison. Robert H. Pry, a retired research executive from the electronics industry who was appointed president of the center last November, will remain in his position, they said.

Since Pry took over in January, the center -- a pet project of Robb's that is designed to coordinate research between high-tech industries and state universities -- has been faulted by legislators and Northern Virginia officials.

Though many of them were delighted when Robb decided to locate the prestigious center on the Fairfax-Loudoun County border, they have complained that Pry and other CIT officials have not been able to explain what research they would be doing or what industries would be involved. They also were concerned that no state money had been committed for roads around the center, where there could be potentially massive traffic problems.

"It sounds like they're sending in the fire department to put out the fire," said state Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. of Fairfax County, the Republican minority leader in the House of Delegates. "It's obvious there's trouble if they're gonna send someone else in to relieve the commander. They're not sending the current guy to Ireland, but they're doing something similar."

In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Republican gubernatorial candidate Wyatt B. Durrette joined others in criticizing the center, saying it was "in a quagmire" and needed to be better developed and defined. He said that there had been discussions of moving the center.

Hays Watkins, chairman of the board that oversees the center's operations, said McCloud's new position was necessary because Pry needed assistance at a time when the center was expanding. He denied that McCloud was being hired because of dissatisfaction with Pry's performance.

"We were asking Bob Pry to do so many things in so many different areas that it became quite obvious that we needed some additional people," said Watkins, chairman of the CSX Corp.

But that did not quiet criticism from state Sen. Dudley J. Emick Jr., a Southwestern Virginia Democrat who has opposed the center since its inception two years ago.

Emick said it was "unbelievable" that the center, which pays Pry an annual salary of $100,000, would create another position for McCloud, who will remain as Robb's top aide until the end of his term in mid-January. He said the decision "cries out for more explanation."

"How are we going to explain to the taxpayers what we are getting for these phenomenal salaries?" Emick said.

"We'll be spending $197,500 in salaries for the two top people. What are we getting for that?" Emick asked. "What is the CIT's plan? When are we going to know its mission?"

But Watkins defended the move, saying McCloud's experience and political contacts would enhance the center's efforts. He said McCloud, who was instrumental in getting the legislation passed to establish the center, "knows all the key business leaders and legislators involved."

John F. Herrity, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said that his staff had not been well briefed about what the center was doing. "What's really needed is someone with the political clout to move it ahead, and he may well have that," he said of McCloud.

Pry said he welcomed McCloud's hiring because it would enable him to concentrate on forging a relationship between the CIT and the area's business and educational communities.

Construction of the center is expected to begin this fall.