An Air Force general in charge of contracting policy acknowledged yesterday that the Air Force should not have bought pliers from the Boeing Military Airplane Co., but he said contracting officers should be credited with negotiating a sharp reduction in Boeing's original proposal on the tools.

Maj. Gen. Bernard L. Weiss, director of contracting and manufacturing policy for the Air Force, said that Boeing initially wanted $884,579 for two pairs of pliers and 66 other tools and pieces of equipment, ranging from the simple to the complex. He said the Air Force agreed to pay only $557,500, which reduced the price of two pairs of pliers from $5,096 to $1,496.

"What you're not recognizing is that the original proposal was significantly higher," he said.

The general was responding to a report in The Washington Post yesterday that Boeing lowered the price to $180 and then $160 for the two pliers, made by Channellock Inc., but added $95,307 and then $143,000 for overhead so that the final price did not change.

Weiss also said the Air Force and Boeing were not "playing with mirrors" when they shifted costs from the pliers to a line item called "support equipment management." He said that shift, which did not change the bottom line of $557,500, provided a more realistic picture of the price of the pliers, both "to gain credibility with the American people" and to allow the Air Force to analyze more closely the nature of the overhead costs.

Weiss said a policy instituted in December calls for buying tools directly from their manufacturers, instead of from prime contractors.

"We screwed up when we bought pliers from Boeing," he said. "If we are still buying pliers from Boeing, some people ought to be fired."