The Post editorial "The Smithsonian Squeeze" {Aug. 6} aptly describes the budgetary constraints and management issues hampering the Smithsonian Institution's ability to effectively and timely pursue its mandate to increase and diffuse knowledge.

However, the editorial inappropriately and unfairly targets "the weighty and costly new mandates that Congress recently handed the institution: the much-needed American Indian Museum on the Mall and an analogous, still-undefined African American 'presence' " as "a big reason" that will result in unbalanced books and radical cutbacks.

Regardless of intent, The Post has succumbed to the common but erroneous notion that the concerns of certain ethnic groups detract from the common good. This is simply not the case.

The National Museum of the American Indian represents 3.8 percent of the $307 million dollars requested by the Smithsonian. The African American Institutional Study project is a mere 0.31 percent -- small and not sufficient amounts to be sure. They in no way threaten other projects deemed critical for research and preservation of cultural and scientific knowledge.

Obviously, altered or expanded priorities demand review and possible paring of existing programs that no longer represent the cutting-edge of scientific and cultural knowledge. It is not uncommon for new opportunities to lead to needed re-ordering of priorities and restructuring.

Placing the National Museum of the American Indian and the African American Institutional Study among the Smithsonian's priorities will demonstrate the kind of policy leadership and budgetary management required to redress the void in public knowledge about these cultures so fundamental to a basic understanding of American history and life and so important in forging our future.

I hope the Smithsonian's leadership and Congress will be prescient enough to understand what our American future requires. PEGGY COOPER CAFRITZ Chair, Smithsonian Cultural Education Committee Washington