Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley's son-in-law has received almost $40,000 in federal and private money since 1974 from the Smithsonian Institution, the World Wildlife Fund and the International Council for Bird Preservation - All of which are directed by Ripley.

Robert S. Ridgely, an ornithologist married to Ripley's oldest daughter, Julie, also now has at his disposal in South America a camper purchased by the Smithsonian, apparently with World Wildlife Fund money.

Ripley is a director of both the International Wildlife Fund and its U.S. chapter, headquartered in Washington. The Smithsonian secretary is also president of the International Council for Bird Preservation.

In all, Ridgely has received $21,400 (not including the cost of the camper) from the World Wildlife Fund to support research on macaw parrots in South America; $10,000 from the International Council to subsidize publication of Ridgely's first book; and $9,500 in federal Interior Department money given to the Smithsonian and later the World Wildlife Fund for a report on macaw parrots in Central America, a report that Ridgely recently completed.

Ridgely received the Interior Department grant money from the Smithsonian in May, 1974, just as he was receiving his master's degree in zoology from Duke University. In response to a written inquiry from The Washington Post, the Smithsonian said that "Secretary Ripley was neither aware of, nor did he participate in the negotiations which led to the award of the research contract to Mr. Ridgely."

One official at the World Wildlife Fund said Ridgely was an extremely competent ornithologist. Ridgely's book, "A Guide to the Birds of Panama," has also received a number of complimentary reviews.

In 1974, he was virtually unknown. It was impossible to determine how Ridgely came to the attention of the Smithsonian because, in response to an inquiry, the Smithsonian failed to explain the exact procedures that led to Ridgely's selection three years ago.

Ripley at first agreed - and then refused - to be interviewed on this subject by The Post. Ridgely could not be reached for comment because he and his wife are said to be travelling in the camper in the jungles of Peru.

Whether or not Ridgely in face received special treatment because of his relationship to Ripley, several Smithsonian employees interviewed in recent weeks have cited the Ridgely case as an extreme example of a general condition.

According to these employees, who asked that their names not be used for fear of retaliation, it is extremely difficult for persons wishing to work at the Smithsonian to be hired (or promoted) unless they are acquaintances of Ripley's or have the right social and academic backgrounds.

"We are an elitist. WASP-type organization," said one Smithsonian employee, describing the Institution's high level administrative staff rather than mid and lower level employees.

"For a long time, you had to have gone to Yale and breathe rarefied air to get a job here. Now, you just need to know someone who went to Yale."

This employee said she was once told that "we need someone with class" when she asked what qualifications were necessary to fill a particular job.

Other employees say the Smithsonian is run through an "old boy" network. In some departments, such as the Smithsonian's security division, the network runs to the military rather than to Yale, where Ripley did his undergraduate work and served as director of the Peabody natural history museum before Smithsonian secretary in 1964.

While relatively few Smithsonian employees are aware of the federal research grant and the camper provided to Ridgely by the Smithsonian, a book review written by Ripley about his son-in-law's book in the November issue of the Smithsonian Magazine is widely known and talked about.

Ripley, a well known ornithologist himself called Ridgely's book "definitive . . . a valuable volume that serious bird watchers concerned with neotropical birds can hardly do without.

"Here, for example, is a typically full account of the Blue-crowned Motmot's habits," Ripley wrote before quoting the following passage from the book:

"Unlike other Panama motmots, not a true forest bird, and espically in the west often found in thickets and bedgrowns in pastures . . . Canal Zone birds give a rather dovelike single hoo-oo (sometimes doubled), somewhat hoarser or more tremulons than the usually tripled hoot of the Rufons Motmot; also has a very tremulous hoorr or hrroo , softer than the corresponding call of Rufous Motmot."

Despite the praise and quotes from Ridgely's book, Ripley failed to mention that the author is his son-in-law, a fact which Bennett Schiff, book review editor of the Smithsonian Magazine, said he too was unaware of before the review was published.

Ripley did mention in the review that "A Guide to the Birds of Panama" was "sponsored" by the International Council for Bird Preservation (ICBP) but the smithsonian secretary failed to mention that he was president of the organization, which provided $10,000 to subsidize publication of the book by Princeton University Press, according to Tom Lovejoy, a World Wildlife official and close friend of Ridgely's.

The ICBP, which is supported by private gifts and donations, is in fact run out of Ripely's private bird laboratory in the National Museum of Natural History building. The Smithsonian provides banking and other administrative services for the private ICBP, which has its main office in London, the Smithsonian acknowledged after an inquiry from The Washington Post.

These arrangements appear to be of the kind that prompted the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior and Related Agencies to asks the General Accounting Office to audit the Smithsonian's books last summer.

Senators on the subcommittee became concerned about financial practices at the Smithsonian after they learned of a secret, $1 million contingency fund maintained for years by Ripley. The fund was abolished after the subcommittee found out about it.

The subcommittee also asked the GAO to look into the Smithsonian's use of the American Security & Trust Co. bank as a depository for Smithsonian money. Ripley served for many years as a director of the bank before resigning last December. Sources have told The Post that the Smithsonian is now in the process of closing its accounts at AS&T and moving the money to the Riggs National Bank.

Since the request for the GAO audit first became public last fall, the Smithsonian has been extremely reluctant to discuss its financial procedures. The following chronology of Ridgely's financial supports since 1974 was pieced together from Interior Department records and an interview with Lovejoy, the World Wildlife official in Washington who is a close friend of Ridgely's and a former student of Ripely's at Yale.

The Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service decided in 1973 that it needed a study of macaw parrots in Central and South America to determine whether they should be placed on the government's endangered species list. The Smithsonian was selected to undertake the study and was give $9,500. Dr. Helmut Sick, a noted Brazilian ornithologist, was selected to do the work.

In mid-winter of 1974, Sick notified the Smithsonian that he could not do the study because of an illness in his family. On May 1, 1974, Ridgely, at the Smithsonian's suggestion, was designated by the Interior Department as Sick's replacement.

Ridgely spent about $1,850 of the money in 1974 before the grant was switched "by mutual consent" from the Smithsonian to the World Wildlife Fund, which added $21,400 - and money for the camper - to the $7,650 remaining in federal money so that Ridgely could complete his study of macaws in both Central and South America.

The initial report on Central American parrots was completed last November. Ridgely is still working on the South American segment of the study, according to Lovejoy.