ANNAPOLIS, AUG. 12 -- The Maryland Board of Public Works, led by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, today reluctantly approved the state Port Administration's plan to contract with a Japanese firm for six new cranes for the Seagirt Marine Terminal at the Baltimore Harbor.

Two weeks ago, when the contract was first presented for their approval, Schaefer and state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein complained bitterly that the Port Administration did not intend to award the contract to a U.S. firm. The only U.S. company that sought the contract submitted a bid $7 million higher than the winning $25.1 million bid submitted by Nissho Iwai American Corp.

Schaefer and Goldstein stalled approval of the contract and ordered port officials to prepare a report on how the state could avoid awarding contracts to foreign companies.

The report, submitted last week, said that in most cases the state is required to accept the lowest bid, and state procurement laws would have to be changed if the board wanted to adopt a policy of buying only U.S. goods.

Schaefer said he will ask a committee of business leaders to examine the state's procurement process. Schaefer has not said whether he would seek changes in the law, but said today that "there are other things we will do as a result of this transaction."

He also complained repeatedly about being criticized for "Japan bashing" in newspaper editorials, and labeled The Washington Post editorial writers "public relations agents for this Japanese firm."

Schaefer and Goldstein told port officials that if a seventh crane is purchased next year, which was raised as a possibility, U.S. firms should be found to do the work.