U.S. Information Agency Director Charles Z. Wick yesterday got a mixed reception on Capitol Hill, drawing praise for his efforts to discredit the Soviet Union but criticism for approving a $58,883 grant earmarked for an agency consultant.

Wick replayed the tape that the United States aired at the United Nations, on which Soviet pilots are heard as they shot down a South Korean airliner Sept. 1. Wick said preparation of the tape was "one of the finest hours for the USIA."

But the tone of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing soon turned more critical. Sen. Edward Zorinsky (D-Neb.) disclosed that Wick had signed a waiver allowing Roy Godson--director of the Washington-based National Strategy Information Center, a nonprofit consulting group--to continue as a $175-a-day USIA consultant on youth issues while lobbying for an agency grant to his organization.

Wick acknowledged that this was "a blatant conflict of interest," but added: "That doesn't necessarily mean there can't be a benefit to the agency . . . if there is an awareness of the conflict . . . . I signed a waiver that the conflict involving Roy Godson was one that, if monitored, was not against the interests of the agency."

Asked Zorinsky: "Charlie, in this fishbowl that you live in and I live in, don't you feel that when it's determined a conflict of interest exists . . . the credibility of the organization should be beyond reproach?"

"If what you're saying, senator, is that any time there's a conflict of interest, then the cause must be abandoned, that's something I personally do not subscribe to," Wick replied.

"That's where you and I basically differ," Zorinsky said.

Godson resigned Wednesday as a USIA consultant, saying he did not see a conflict between his dual roles but wanted to avoid congressional criticism.

According to Zorinsky, the USIA is completing a $58,883 grant--just below the $60,000 level that requires congressional review--to the International Youth Year Commission, designated by the United Nations to coordinate a global youth celebration in 1985.

Zorinsky said the group planned to pass on the money to Godson's group, which had been criticized by USIA inspectors on an earlier grant for not following affirmative action procedures.

Wick acknowledged that Godson "used unwarranted pressure" to convince USIA grant reviewers to award the money, but he said agency officials rejected these efforts.

Zorinsky said the grant "appears to have a political purpose" and did not involve any cultural exchanges required under the grant program.

He criticized the recipient groups for planning to make 14 trips, including eight to the Caribbean, to provide a briefing on interpretations of the youth commission's themes of "participation, development and peace."

A USIA spokesman said an agency panel had voted to hire Godson's group as a subcontractor because the youth commission is comprised largely of adolescents and needs guidance. But he said the agency had overruled the panel and has left open the selection of a subcontractor.

Zorinsky said an internal USIA inspection report had found flaws in the USIA's private sector grant program, which has been criticized as overly political, and questioned the qualifications of its political appointees.

But Wick said, "The bottom line is that there was nothing illegal. There were some bad judgments."