A high official of the U.S. Office of Education has been relieved of his duties in the wake of an investigation into federal funding irregularities and possible conflicts of interest involving foreign travel.

Cecil L. Yarbrough was removed Monday as head of the Atlanta regional education office pending an administrative review of a one-year probe conducted by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare Audit Agency.

Yarbrough is accused of taking foreign trips paid for an arranged by the University of Alabana, after the university had applied for or received federal funds from him.

A department spokesman said the investigation raised questions about "the propriety of some of the administrative actions taken by Yarborough's (Atlanta) office" in awarding federal discretionary funds to Alabama. The spokesman also said there were "questions concerning practices of Yarbrough related to certain travel vouchers."

"Pending administrative review of these matters by the Office of Education, it is in the best interest of the agency to assign him to its Washington office."

Yarbrough, 65, had served as regional education commissioner in Atlanta since September, 1974. His office, one of 10 around the country, overseas federal education programs, processes funding applications and provides technical services to colleges and universities.

The Washington Post disclosed last year that HEW auditors were examining Yarbrough's role in providing a $181.000 contract to the University of Alabama to carry out a plan "to improve regional socioeconomic development ... through education" in eight southeastern states.

While the contract was in effect, Yarbrough took a trip to Europe sponsored by the International Council on Education of Teaching (ICET). He was recommended for the 1975 trip by Paul Orr. an ICET trustee who is also the dean of the University of Alabama's school of education.

HEW auditors said Orr also paid Yarbrough's expenses for a trip to Mexico after the University of Alabama submitted a $225.841 grant application to follow up on the original contract.

Yarbrough, who earns $40,545 could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, in a previous interview with The Post, he denied he knowingly violated any laws.

Orr said in Tuscaloosa, "I can say, without question, that the suditors said there was no indication of any wrongdoing on the part of the University of Alabama or any of the people involved here."

Yarbrough's temporary replacement in Atlanta will be Thomas Moorefield, currently the deputy regional commissioner of the U S office of Education in Denver.