Four years after Congress attempted to create some order out of the chaotic profusion of federal jobs programs, an examination of how the effort has worked in one fairly typical area, Tidewater Virginia, found:

Forty-four programs involving five federal departments, three independent federal agencies, one federally sponsored regional council, 50 local administering agencies and 26 other groups, including state agencies and national organizations.

"The result is a vast network of special emphasis program categories characterized by programs with similar goals and target groups . . . federal moneys that follow a variety of administrative channels . . . and a complex and confusing approach to helping individuals obtain training or become gainfully employed," the report concluded.

The study was conducted for fiscal year 1977 by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, in an attempt to assess the government's multibillion-dollar employment and training programs by looking in detail at one place: Norfolk, Va., and surrounding areas.

It called for administrative action, and if necessary, legislation to streamline and consolidate existing programs, which was what was intended, it noted, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in 1973.

"The federal government has been very responsive to employment and training problems," the GAO report concluded, "but tends to respond to such problems by creating separate programs. The maze of programs calls attention to the need to streamline the federally assisted employment and training system."

Not only were all jobs programs not brought under the CETA umbrella in 1973, the GAO noted, but programs proliferated within CETA, and Congress added more of its own.

For Tidewater Virginia, which spent $24.2 million of the $9 billion federal jobs budget for 1977, the programs ranged in size from two participants to 55,468, the study noted. Twenty-one separate programs were aimed at creating jobs, while 14 provided employment training and nine involved job referral or placement.

The report cited two separate summer jobs programs for disadvantaged youths, one for those 14 to 21, the other for those 16 to 21. These young people were also eligible for a third program, called Vocational Exploration. Two different federal agencies have responsibility for the three programs, and at least three different program agents are involved on the local level, the report said.

"It appears that program agents administer programs without full knowledge of what others are doing," it added.

Moreover, "The proliferation of programs in the Tidewater area makes evaluating the overall results of federally assisted efforts very difficult, if not impossible," the study said. Reports submitted by the various agencies "do not really show what is happening," it added.