Washington area officials yesterday called President Carter's proposed urban policy a useful first step in defining the federal role, but withheld final judgment until they see what comes from Congress and the federal regulation writers.

At the same time, several officials and politicians expressed concern that there was not enough new money in the various programs. Administration officials and Carter himself said that the emphasis was on making existing programs work better, on improving coordination among federal agencies and on emphasizing the need to rebuild rather than abandon distressed urban areas.

One program that is particularly popular in that Washington area is proposed to receive more money. That is the federal housing program that provides low-interest (3 per cent) loans to people who want to rehabilitate older dwelling in depressed neighborhoods.

"Last year, Washington area governments used their allotments for that program within three days," said Ruth Crone of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The District of Columbia, Montgomery and Fairfax counties received a total of $1.2 million. The expect about half that in the current fiscal year.

Carter added $150 million nationally to that program above the proposed national level for fiscal 1979 of $125 million. How much of that would get to Washington is unknown.

One of the centerpieces of the national policy - that of requiring the location of new federal facilities in central cities instead of in the suburbs - would have less apparent impact in Washington than it would seem at first glance.

That is because the General Services Administration, in 1971, after several years of directing moves to such far-flung locations as Rockville and Reston, reversed that policy and started bringing federal employment centers back into Washington.

At the end of 1976 - the last year for which complete figures are available - about three federal civilian employes out of five in the Washington metropolitan area worked in the District of Columbia. The others were split about evenly between Virginia and Maryland locations.

Montgomery County had the largest Maryland share - 43,371 - while close in Arlington County had 35,910. Those figures are from the National Capital Planning Commission.

Jay Solomon, chief of the General Services Administration, the federal governments' housekeeper, said the new policy "will mandate that we concentrate in urban areas." He acknowledged that the impact in Washington would be slight, particularly when compared with some other cities where federal employment is far-flung.

In this area, Solomon said, GSA is looking to relocate part of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from offices in far-out Germantown into Washington.

Walter Scheiber, executive director of COG and one of the few area officials who had actually been briefed on parts of the proposal, said that "nothing I've seen indicates they've dealt with the problems on multistate urban areas."

Washington is in that category. Although the District of Columbia clearly has inner-city problems, the same problems are just as evident in pockets of some close-in suburbs such as Arlington, Alexandria and Prince George's County.

Under the Carter proposals, the states would be given incentives to target urban areas. If Maryland and Virginia go in different directions in the Washington area, "it further complicates our problems," Scheiber said.

John Lally, spokesman for Prince George's County Executive Winfield Kelly, said that "the two most important things to us are housing and transportation."

The only mention of transportation in the policy is $200 million to improve ease of connection between different modes of transit, such as buses and trains. There is no help beyond the already proposed administration transportation package which has been described as "retrogressive" by transit backers.

Washington Mayor Walter E. Washington praised the incentives for private industry to build in the city and to hire disadvantaged workers. "I liked the cross-fertilization of economic development and employment," he said.

Sterling Tucker, D.C. City Council chairman, praised the effort of the administration but said it lacked focus."The funding is just not up to what it should be because of this lack of focus," Tucker said.

RIchard A. Jackson, who has announced as a candidate for mayor, said the president had kept his campaign promise to deliver an urban policy, "but this can't be all; there has to be more substance to this in terms of money."