A draft report by the National Academy of Public Administration concludes that the District's purchasing system needs improvement but strongly opposes changes favored by a D.C. City Council committee to centralize the process.

The report, commissioned by Mayor Marion Barry's office, recommends stronger central oversight of purchases made by individual city agencies, particularly purchases of less than $10,000. However, the report states that "full centralization" of purchasing operations under one agency, as a bill introduced by Council member William Spaulding (D-Ward 5) is designed to do, "would be a major step backwards."

The findings of the nonprofit study group are likely to be used by Barry and his aides as ammunition in opposing the passage of Spaulding's bill and as the basis for the mayor's counterproposal. The administration has not formally released the study, but a copy was obtained yesterday by The Washington Post.

Spaulding's bill, introduced in response to reports of widespread waste and mismanagement in the District's purchasing system, would end the city's practice of allowing individual agencies to handle much of their own purchasing and warehousing of materials. Instead, a single agency, the Department of Administrative Services, would be responsible for purchasing all goods and services and for warehousing material.

Barry has opposed the centralization provisions of Spaulding's bill, arguing that they tread on his authority and would inhibit the District's ability to obtain goods and services quickly.

A final report is expected to be ready by early November -- about the time Spaulding's bill will be brought before the full City Council for consideration.

Spaulding could not be reached yesterday for comment on the preliminary report.

The report said that many other jurisdictions put one agency in charge of purchasing and warehousing. But the study notes that "the District government is indeed unique, and the fact that many jurisdictions practice centralization of procurement is not a compelling model for the District to emulate in view of its size and diversity."

The report recommends that the District's major agencies retain their purchasing power because their personnel have the expertise to handle the agencies' specialized needs, but it said that a "centrally located official" should be responsible for overseeing those purchases. The lack of such oversight is "the most glaring weakness in today's structure," the report states.

The report suggests that a central agency continuously monitor purchases of less than $10,000 to see if they can be combined to save money and reduce warehouse inventories.

An investigation by The Post last year of city purchases of under $10,000 found a pattern of high prices and abuses of competitive bidding rules.

The academy's report notes the District has received five other studies suggesting reforms of its purchasing and supply methods, dating back to 1959. The report compliments city officials on "a highly favorable attitude toward the importance of reforms, with a record of recent progress and very ambitious plans for the future."