The General Services Administration is seeking legislation that would let it do preliminary architectural and engineering work on new federal buildings and repair projects in a more timely fashion. Unlike the Army Corps of En- gineers, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command or the Veterans Administration, the GSA can't do the preliminary work unless Congress authorizes it.

The issue strikes at the heart of Congress' pork-barrel prerogatives, because the GSA would be able to do a certain amount of work on a proposed project before having to deal with Congress. But the GSA says it then could provide more realistic cost estimates of a project.

Richard H. Field, GSA's deputy assistant commissioner for design and construction, said the bill, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), "would eliminate congressmen from the chain that delays locating new federal office space. It would allow us to make cost-effective decisions." Field guessed that up to 20 percent of a project's cost could be saved with the new provision.

GSA's efforts come on the heels of a General Accounting Office audit that said GSA took an inordinate amount of time -- sometimes up to 32 months -- to contract for architecture and engineering services in 1978-81 for the buildings that GAO reviewed. GSA responded that the report was "sloppy" and "outdated." It contends that 36 management steps put in place before the audit had started have cut that time substantially.