Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. announded yesterday a new program to streamline and make sense of his department's often buffling 6,000 pages of federal regulations.

The five-year "Operation Common Sense" is intended to reduce and make "rational" the requirements HEW imposes - in health care, Social Security, education and social services. Califano said that since 1969 the number of pages of HEW regulations has more than doubled and now fills 13 volumes of the Code of Federal Regulations.

"Too many of HEW's rules impose archaic and even incomprehensible requirements - often in elaborate and excruciating detail," he said. "Our regulations today have become a Kafkaesquie labyrinth that makes little sense to anyone - neither the people who write the regulations, the people who administer them, or the people who must comply with them."

Califano at 20 cited delays so long that by the time regulations are written the programs are obsolete, and attention to rivial or unnecessary rules while important regulations "languish unwritten."

Califano said the operation would neither save nor cost more money, but would make for an "easier and more flexible delivery of social services." He said in a letter to the nation's mayors and governors and to other government bureaucrats that they identify the kinds of rules and regulations deserving of the projects attention.

Califano's new program follows by three days an attack on excessive paperwork and red tpe by the White House.

President Carter, speaking in anticipation of a report by the Commission on Federal Paperwork, said: "Many existing federal requirements are condusting and and unnecessarily difficult to comply with. They produce mounds of papers."

Califano also announced that he sent Carter's proposed welfare overhaul to Congress yesterday, to be introduced by Rep. James C. Corman (D-Calif.) and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), chairmen of the subcommittees that will consider the bill.

The welfare plan, which would create 1.4 million public sector jobs and would cost $34 billion, has been criticized by Republicans by organized labor and by Chairman Russell B. Long (D-La.) of the Senate Finance Committee, through which the bill must pass.

But Califano said he was encouraged by popular and editorial support he has seen recently. He said House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. created a special subcommittee to consider the legislation and chose people who are will respected in Congress and who have "distinguished records" in the area of welfare revision.

"I think we can demonstrate to Sen. Long and the Senate Finance Committee," Califano said, "that this is the legislation that should be passed."

On another matter, Califano defended the recent decision by the National Cancer Institute not to test laetrile, the controversial substance from apricot pits.

"We are firmly convinced," Califano said, "that lactrile is a snake-oil for cancer patients. It is a sham and a disgrace that individuals are selling it."

He said prescriptions for laetrile to cancer patients to the exclusion of other drug s "accelerate the day their cancer consumes them." Laetrile advocates do not want the drug tested, he said, and it "may actually harmful."