The White House, facing a tough House battle on its proposed Department of Education, yesterday sought to blunt in advance the criticism it expects to surface at House hearings next week.

At a briefing for reporters, Office of Management and Budget Director James. T. McIntyre said creation of the $13.5 billion-a-year, 16,000-employ Cabination of education at the state and local levels, as has been charged by such critics as Rep. John N. Erlenborn R-Ill.), one of the chief foes of the proposal.

"The federal role is limited... The tradition of state and local control... will not be changed," McIntyre said.

Nor would creation of the department necessarily mean ladling out more money for federal education programs, Mcintyre said.

"Just the fact that you create a new department doesn't mean new expenditures," said McIntyre, saying that the proposal eventually would allow 350 to 400 jobs to be eliminated "with a savings of over $100 million [annually] in the long run for greater efficiency."

McIntyre said the biggest gains would came from simplification of decision-making, greater "clout" for education, which would have its own Cabinetlevel secretary instead of being run by a relatively low-level assistant secretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and far more rapid development of regulations.

When a new regulation for an education program is to be promulgated, it normally takes an average of 519 days because it must pass through 26 jurisdictional steps before working its way up to the final approval by the secretary of HEW, McIntyre aides said.

Under the proposed department, the steps would be cut from 26 to 11 and time substantially reduced, he said.

McIntyre said that one of the biggest problems is that HEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. simply can't pay enough attention to educational matters because 92 percent of his huge $200 billion departmental budget is for welfare and health matters, which "dominate the secretary's attention."

"I dno't know anyone who has done a better job than Joe Califano" in running HEW over the years, McIntyre said, but health and welfare so overwhelmingly demand his attention that "educational problems are necessarily pushed aside."

With education in a separate department, "crowding out will be eliminated," he said.

Bert Carp, deputy assistant to the president for domestic affairs and policy, told the briefing that the administration doesn't plan to enlarge the new department beyond its present scope by allowing it, once created, to gulp down some programs that aren't being put into the new department -- such as veterans' education, school lunches and labor manpower training.

Carp also said that one of the greatest problems is that, after making decisions, the professional education people in HEW must then fight them up through heavy layers of people in the HEW secretary's office, such as the overall planning, public affairs and legislative staffs, who know far less about education.

The new department is opposed by conservatives like Erlenborn for fear that it would take over all major education decisions from state and local governments, and by the American Federation of Teachers and some other labor and welfare groups for fear it would fragment their existing lobbying coalitions and break desirable links between welfare and education programs for the poor.

However, a big coalition of education organizations, led by the National Education Association, is backing it.