While the issue of congressional earmarking for funds for university research facilities poses interesting questions, it has unfortunately been clouded by misconceptions and erroneous information {" 'Academic Pork Barrel' Divides Universities," June 8 and "Merit and Money," editorial, June 1}.

In practice, the peer review system has resulted in the top 20 research universities -- all members of the Association of American Universities -- getting the bulk of federal research dollars year after year. A recent General Accounting Office study found that 16 of the top 20 universities receiving the most federal dollars in 1967 are still among the top 20 universities today. This is a system that allows few "newcomers" any realistic hope of competing for large amounts of federal research dollars.

A critical distinction exists between peer review for research facilities and peer review for research projects. In fact, there is no system in place for "peer review" of federal research facilities funds. Institutions seeking direct congressional support are being accused -- unfairly -- of bypassing a system that does not exist.

Moreover, while "peer review" is appropriate for the award of funds for research projects, it may not be appropriate for award of facilities funds. The distribution of funds should take into account such factors as institutional need, the contribution the facility will make to economic growth and competitiveness, and the potential of the university to conduct critically needed research. Peer review measures only the applicability and capability of existing scientific expertise to carry out a proposed project. It is a static system that fails to take into account the related economic and social factors relevant to funding decisions for facilities.

Both the AAU and The Post seem to believe that direct grants for research facilities "could erode political support for research money in general" and reduce scientists to the status of a "special interest group." Again, the facts are otherwise.

As the number of direct appropriations has increased in the past several years, the research budgets of the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense have grown enormously. Such projects have been added to and not taken from these research budgets. As for the concern over "special-interest"-group status for scientists, the great research universities, operating both individually and through organizations like the AAU, already constitute a uniquely successful special interest group.

To those who might believe otherwise, Congress is highly capable of making informed decisions regarding the designation of an occasional research facility project and generally does so in consultation with officials at the federal science agencies, academic and technical experts, authorizing committees, etc. Such determinations have always been a congressional prerogative and, I dare say, will remain as such.

The controversy is in large part an attempt to secure the privileged position of a small number of elite universities against the efforts of less affluent and less well-known institutions to improve their own research capabilities. This is not an "either/or" situation. Both the "haves" and the "have-nots" are deserving of more federal funds to conduct vital research.

The combination of peer review for projects and direct funding for facilities simply increases the number of institutions that are able to compete for projects. To exclude universities seeking only the opportunity to excel is to deny the nation a broader and more competitive research infrastructure. MARK O. HATFIELD U.S. Senator (R-Oregon) Washington