The Department of Health, Education and Welfare has discovered 216 of its employees on District of Columbia welfare rolls - 105 by "apparent fraud or error." HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. said yesterday.

The cases were revealed in initial testing here of a new HEW effort to expose welfare fraud on the part of federal workers across the country, Califano said in testimony to the House Intergovernmental Relations and Human Resources Subcommittee.

He said the cases involving suspected fraud or error will be promptly investigated and referred to proper agencies for legal action.

Officials of the D.C. Department of Human Resources, which administers city welfare programs, said they have not been informed of the suspected fraudulent or erroneous payments to HEW workers. They alone have authority to eliminate such benefits, the officials said.

"We have cooperated by supplying HEW our rolls, but we have not been given their payroll," acting DHR deputy director William H. Whitehurst Jr. said. He said DHR asked for the information more than a week ago.

Whitehurst said the District's intensified efforts to reduce its welfare error rates, among the highest in the country, produced a slight decline the first half of 1977.

Welfare benefits to ineligible persons declined from 14.3 per cent of the total caseload to 11.3 per cent, but the rate of overpayments rose from 22.1 per cent to 23.8 per cent, Whitehurst said.

Welfare fraud and errors most often result from recipients failing to report changes in income, family size and other factors that determine the amount of benefits, according to federal and local officials. DHR's inability to review its casloads thoroughly and accurately process new applicants have also been blamed for the high error rate here.

DHR has estimated that it pays out $33,000 a month in erroneous overpayments out of a total $8 million paid in family welfare each month.

According to Califano, a preliminary analysis of 111 of the case indicated that the persons are entitled to benefits they receive.

Aid to Families with Dependent Children, the major welfare program, pays $3,769.20 a year to a family of four in the District. Working parents of large families often qualify for AFDC benefits to supplement salaries.

Califano said HEW's comparison of welfare and federal employee rolls here was an initial step in a program, labeled Project Match, to undertake such checks nationwide.

Based on its success in the District, HEW is exploring a matchup of the entire federal workforce with lists of people receiving welfare, food stamp and unemployment benefits nationally, Califano said.

He testified in hearings on a bill, introduced by subcommittee chairman Rep. L. H. Fountain (D.N.C.), to create statutory inspections general in 14 federal departments and agencies to track down fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy.

HEW has had an inspector general for four months, under legislation that Fountain initiated last year. Califano said the Match project is one of several antifraud efforts that have shown early success.

Placing auditing and investigative authority with inspectors general was previously confined to agencies such as the FBI and IRS, Califano said, but applying the idea to "large, cash payment programs makes good sense."

The Fountain measure, which was sent to the full House Government Operations Committee yesterday, would add inspectors general to the Departments of Interior, Labor, Commerce, Agriculture, Transportation.

In addition, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, General Services Administration, Veterans Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Community Services Administration and Small Business Administration would have inspectors general. A consolidated energy department is also expected to have an inspector general.