MOST MEMBERS of Congress and the administration want National Public Radio, the financially strapped network, to stay on the air, and there are more than a few loyal listeners out there who share the sentiment. But with NPR now looking forward to a long green rescue--a $9.1 million loan from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to wipe out the network's estimated deficit for the current fiscal year--a thorough investigation of what, or who, went wrong should not be given up.

So far, it hasn't been. The General Accounting Office has had a team of auditors at NPR going over the books and trying to determine what led to the financial mess. There is some appropriate congressional investigating going on too: the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight and investigations, headed by Rep. John Dingell of Michigan, is looking into the deficit, the uses of money and the management practices--or lack of them--at NPR. Public money is involved, through the CPB as well as from contributions, and every effort to clean up NPR's act and ensure sound financial policies from now on should be pursued.

In announcing the loan, CPB officials have emphasized that an agreement will call for CPB to assume oversight of NPR operations. The full House committee, in approving a bill increasing CPB's budget, approved an amendment by Chairman Dingell making the corporation responsible for the network's fiscal soundness; no funds could be given to NPR unless the network comes up with a system of adequate controls, a reasonable budget and financial records open for continual CPB inspection.

CPB chairman Sharon Rockefeller has cited "gross mismanagement and a lack of management direction" at NPR, but has urged Congress not to "penalize an entire institution for the mistakes of a few people."

Good point. But it means completing a rigorous investigation of what went wrong at NPR, when and why. Otherwise, two essentials--public money and public trust--will be in jeopardy.