Energy Secretary Donald P. Hodel was told yesterday that he will be held directly responsible for the fate of Dr. Maxine Savitz, a former high-ranking DOE expert on energy conservation who was fired last year and is fighting to regain her job.

"Many of us are watching this case to see how you handle it," Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) warned Hodel in a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing. One person is going to be held responsible for deciding whether Savitz' dismissal was justified, Leahy told Hodel, and that "one person is you . . . . We will not allow it to be shifted off to OPM Office of Personnel Management or . . . some other agency."

Hodel, who was not at DOE when Savitz was fired, said he was studying a letter from K. William O'Connor, special counsel to the Merit Systems Protection Board, who announced last week that Savitz had been fired improperly and should be reinstated immediately.

Hodel hinted that he might ignore O'Connor's advice. Describing O'Connor's actions as "extraordinary," Hodel said he thought the MSPB had resolved the Savitz case when it refused in January to stay her dismissal for a third time. Hodel said he took the board's action as an "indication" that there was no "substantial justification" to reinstate Savitz.

Savitz has contended that she was fired for political reasons, as part of an overall effort to eliminate DOE's conservation programs.

Under questioning from Sen. James A. McClure (R-Idaho), Hodel said the administration is committed to a "balanced energy program" that includes conservation, fossil energy, solar and other renewable programs. But, he said, it believes such programs are better left to the private sector.

Because of "certain congressional concerns over the pace of our redirection," Hodel said, the administration had decided to seek additional funding in fiscal 1984 for programs such as conservation. He said the DOE had requested $101 million for conservation in fiscal 1984, nearly $80 million more than it requested last year. But McClure said the request was still 78 percent less than what conservation programs had received before President Reagan.

Hodel said some of those cuts could be attributed to better management. He said the agency saved several million dollars by phasing out DOE-funded state and local conservation programs that helped needy Americans weatherize their homes.

The DOE program duplicated a weatherization program run by the Health and Human Services Department, Hodel said. He added, however, that "the process breaks down a little here," because he did not know whether the money had been transferred to HHS to help it meet a new demand for weatherization.

Hodel said he had not yet received a letter from OPM Director Donald J. Devine, who urged Hodel to reject O'Connor's advice. O'Connor said he would appeal the firing if Hodel has not reinstated Savitz within 30 days.