White House budget managers have dropped a set of clearance rules that had been blamed for delaying or preventing studies of the prevalence of cancer and other diseases.

The action by the Office of Management and Budget was taken Jan. 1. three months after Dr. Sidney Wolfe, Ralph Nader's chief health investigator, complained about the rules.

Wolfe told Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. that HEW scientists and doctors were reporting "unnecessary, costly and dangerous" difficulties in winning OMB clearance of studies of disease incidence.

Under what Wolfe called "a highly questionable interpretation" of a 1942 federal reports act, OMB was conducting protracted reviews of many such studies -- and taking so long, Wolfe said, that the studies often became pointless before they could be started.

Among the affected research, he said, were investigations of the effects of birth-control pills, the effects of estrogens (female sex hormones) on the children of mothers taking then. and the role of environment and job exposure in causing cancer.

OMB now has exempted collections of much such information from administrative review, beyond agency scrutiny of the projects' value and review to protect human subjects and maintain their privacy.

The exemption will last 15 months, after which the agency will consider making it permanent, said Stanley Morris, deputy associate director of OMB.

Wolfe wrote Califano last week to thank him for "prompt attention." Dr. Robert Hoover, a National Cancer Institute epidemiologist who helped supply the information Wolfe used, said he and National Institutes of Health colleagues will be able to speed up many studies as a result.