If one name causes more pained expressions on the faces of top Environmental Protection Agency officials, it is William Drayton, EPA's former chief of policy and administration.

The mild-mannered Drayton left behind a managerial structure that the Reagan administration regards as unresponsive, top-heavy and dedicated to overregulation. Some EPA insiders say just having been a friend of Drayton was enough to get staff people transferred to Boise.

Now Drayton has added insult to injury: he is at the center of "Save EPA," a sort of new shadow bureaucracy convinced that the Reagan administration is trying to demolish the 12-year-old agency through budget and personnel cuts.

"It's right out of Clausewitz," said the scholarly Drayton, with the penetrating gaze his friends call earnest and his critics call demonic, referring to the 19th century military expert. "He said avoid frontal attacks. That's just what they're doing. By June it'll be all over."

Save EPA argues that the massive budget cuts proposed for the agency for fiscal 1983, combined with weaker enforcement efforts and a pending headquarters reorganization, will leave EPA understaffed and unable to handle a rapidly increasing workload. Strapped state governments will not take up the slack, Drayton says.

With a central "fact group" of nine former EPA officials and environmentalist group members, all unpaid, Save EPA draws on its friends inside the agency, the Office of Management and Budget and the White House for information on EPA's plans and proposals. A lot of crucial items come from consulting firms, industrial groups and attorneys doing business with EPA, said Drayton, who is doing consulting work himself.

Most of these people are "terrified of being associated publicly" with the group, Drayton says, for fear of offending the administration. In fact, Drayton is the only one of several members contacted who was willing to be quoted.

He sees Save EPA as an information source for media and government and runs it "very informally," with no real structure and a hand-to-mouth budget that relies on volunteered time, typewriters and paper. The photocopied documents go out by volunteer messenger around the city with Drayton's interpretations, and Drayton has become a familiar face at Hill hearings on EPA's budget.

At EPA, the group is no joking matter. "The administration of which Bill Drayton was an integral part left EPA a legacy of 12,000 expired water permits, 1,400 unaudited sewer system construction grants, 1,000 unsigned state air pollution compliance plan revisions, 442 enforcement cases . . . and hired 4,000 people in four years," said agency spokesman Byron Nelson. "No wonder he wants to save EPA now. He's got a batting average slightly worse than Marv Throneberry."