President Carter yesterday named Robert T. Griffin, the central figure in a political patronage dispute between the White House and the former administrator of the General Services Administration to be the acting administrator of GSA.

Griffin, 59, is a longtime friend of House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.). Griffin had been in line for the agency's No. 2 post, that of deputy administrator.

Jack M. Eckerd, a Republican who had been asked to remain as head of GSA by Carter, resigned Monday to protest the White House's insistence that he accept Griffin as his top deputy.

Last week Eckerd announced his intention to resign, and accused the President of breaking a pledge to allow him to choose his own deputy. White House officials said the dispute resulted from "an honest misunderstanding."

Yesterday's announcement that Griffin would at least temporarily assume the top position at GSA came from the agency and not the White House. It was no immediately clear whether Carter intends eventually to nominate Griffin as the permanent GSA administrator or whether someone else will be nominated for the top job with Griffin as the deputy administrator.

As acting administrator, Griffin does not require Senate confirmation, but his salary will remain at its present level of $39,600 a year.The salary for permanent GSA director is $44,600.

A native of Somerville, Mass., Griffin has worked for the federal government for 33 years, and has been with GSA since its inception in 1949. From 1961 to 1969 - the years of the Democratic Kennedy and Johnson administrations - he was GSA's assistant administrator, the third-ranking position in the agency.

He holds a master's degree in public administration from Boston University, and has had close ties with a number of Massachusetts Democratic politician, among them O'Neill and former House Speaker John McCormack. He was most recently the federal coordinator of the John F. Kennedy Library and the Kennedy Library Corp.'s board of directors.