After 3 1/2 years of trying to persuade officials in Washington to toughen their approach to Romania, David Funderburk has resigned as the U.S. ambassador to Bucharest and decided to publicize the policy dispute he has waged with senior administration officials. Funderburk argues that U.S. policy toward Romania at present is largely misconceived and ineffective.

Funderburk, in an interview here Monday, called for a revision of U.S. policy and a possible end to the most-favored-nation trading status and other concessions Washington grants the Bucharest government.

Romania has received preferential U.S. treatment since the late 1960s on the basis of a foreign policy that often diverges from Moscow's. But Funderburk contends that Romania's independence is exaggerated and its ties to the Soviet Union are more extensive than Washington policy makers are willing to recognize. Moreover, he says, Romania's abysmal record on human rights and its lack of internal reforms are a mockery of declared U.S. policy goals.

For example, he said, on the surface, it looked recently as if the Romanians were complying with U.S. wishes to relax emigration constraints. Hundreds were being granted permission to leave Romania and were flooding the U.S. Embassy requesting visas.

But on closer examination, U.S. officials found they had been outwitted by Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu, he said. Many Romanians being let go turned out to be unqualified for admission to the United States.

"We were outfoxed by Ceausescu," Funderburk said. "He in effect dumped people on us like a mini-Mariel," a reference to the massive boatlift of Cubans to the United States in 1980. "Hundreds of those approved for emigration were undesirables. Meantime, many of those we wanted out are still waiting for official permission.

"This situation has created a dilemma for us," Funderburk said. "We have this long list of people asking to come to the States. About 30 or 40 of them protested outside the embassy several weeks ago. They were put up to it by Romanian authorities at the passport office.

"Ceausescu is trying to turn the tables on us. At human rights conferences, to defuse the emigration issue, the Romanians now say to us, look, you can't criticize us for not letting enough people out because many of those we've already approved to go have yet to be let into the United States."

Funderburk tells the story as an example of what he says is the need to be wary of the Romanian regime. He thinks the Reagan administration has not been wary enough.

"There is a street term the Romanians use, smecher, meaning someone who is sneaky, crafty, a wheeler-dealer," he said. "That applies to the government in Bucharest."

Funderburk, 41, a former university professor of history with links to conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N. Car.), was appointed ambassador in 1981. He speaks Romanian and studied in Romania for two years in the 1970s on a Fulbright and other foundation grants.

In a letter accepting his resignation "with deep regret," President Reagan expressed appreciation for Funderburk's "efforts to improve the human rights situation in Romania" and commended him for "steadfast support of our national security interests in Europe."

Funderburk's 1981 Senate confirmation hearing was marked by controversy over ill-tempered statements he had authored in a 1978 pamphlet alleging the "misteaching of communism" in U.S. universities and accusing the State Department of whitewashing human rights reports on Eastern Europe.

Such remarks strained his relations with some foreign service professionals from the start. But he said he is not alone among U.S. diplomats in advocating a harder line on Romania.

He said his views are supported by a majority of the principal officers at the Bucharest embassy, and he spoke of efforts by senior State Department officials to curb such nonconformist thinking.

Accusing the State Department of disapproving of dissent in its own ranks, Funderburk said a handful of embassy officers due for reassignment are being transferred to lesser posts than they deserve in apparent retribution for having challenged current policy on Romania.

"Two at the embassy, for instance, were recently moved to out-of-the-way positions back in Washington where they will be out of the limelight," he said. "They have been put in places where they can't step out publicly and where they can be monitored. It looks like a dead end for their careers."

State Department spokesman Ed Djerejian, responding to Funderburk's charges, said that under a "longstanding policy" in effect since the 1970s, "constructive and creative dissent is something encouraged by the State Department." Djerejian said that in addition to regular channels for diplomats abroad to make dissenting views known to Washington, there are special channels "if they feel stymied," and the "dissent-channel messages go to the top." Djerejian said the State Department had no further comment on Funderburk's allegations.

Funderburk referred to a "network" of administration officials, primarily at the departments of State and Commerce and including some at the Central Intelligence Agency, who, he said, have dismissed or belittled evidence the embassy in Bucharest has collected documenting Romania's growing economic ties with the Soviet Union, the presence of large numbers of nonmilitary Soviet personnel in the country, the transfer to the Soviet Union of technology Romania has obtained from the West, and Bucharest's position as a major exporter of arms.

"Much evidence we sent in was overlooked and ignored," he said. "They scrambled to denigrate a lot of the material we put forward."

He complained of a tendency among some administration officials to soften criticism of human rights abuses in Romania and to lavish praise on the Bucharest government for foreign policy positions which, in Funderburk's view, often have more form than substance.

Funderburk said he raised some of his concerns directly with President Reagan in an August 1983 meeting at the White House that was attended also by Vice President Bush, then-national decurity sdviser William P. Clark and then-presidential aide Edwin Meese III. "All seemed interested in and sympathetic with what I had to say," Funderburk said.

The problem, he alleged, rests mainly with others in the administration. "There's a difference between Reagan's stated goals and our policy as implemented," he said. "What I would like to see is the State Department implementing policy more consistently with Reagan's declared ideals."

He said he decided to speak out now after becoming free of the constraints of serving as an ambassador and after leaving a country as keenly sensitive to criticism as Romania is.

"When I went to Romania, I wasn't aware how much our policy needed change," he said. "When I realized it did, I thought that by working through the U.S. government system, we could have a major impact on policy.

"But I found that the people who we had to report to directly were unsympathetic to change or to new information. It's difficult to get anyone's attention at State if you have a view that's different because their minds are made up. That's what I found disappointing."

U.S. policy toward Romania has been based on the premise that the public displays of independence from Moscow by Ceausescu, who has ruled Romania since 1965, are a genuine irritant to the Soviet Union and a positive example to other East Bloc states, and therefore should be encouraged.

Ceausescu has criticized the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. His country is the only Warsaw Pact member that refuses to let Soviet troops on its territory for maneuvers and that does not send troops to joint pact training exercises. He defied the Soviet-led boycott of the Olympic Games in Los Angeles last year, and he has scolded the Soviet Union as well as the United States for raising tensions in Europe over nuclear weapons.

Additionally, Ceausescu's ties with China and his relations with all parties in the Middle East have proved useful back channels for U.S. policy makers. Romania is the only East European nation to have maintained diplomatic contacts with Israel since 1967.

The U.S. position was spelled out by Bush in a 1983 speech explaining the basis on which Washington differentiates among East European regimes.

"We look to what degree countries pursue autonomous foreign policies, independent of Moscow's direction, and to what degree they foster domestic liberalization -- politically, economically and in their respect for human rights," he said. "The United States will engage in closer political, economic and cultural relations with those countries such as Hungary and Romania which assert greater openness or independence. We will strengthen our dialogue and cooperation with such countries."

Referring to the Bush speech, Funderburk said: "If you take the two goals he mentioned and measure what success we've had in Romania, we've gone backwards. We've been unable to effect any reform in terms of the economy, the standard of living or human rights with the exception of a few individual cases."

He said he would "like to see a policy that brings about greater Romanian independence from the Soviets, internal reforms and improved human rights," or, failing that, a reduction of U.S. support, "including the possible withdrawal of MFN status, fewer high-level official visits and reduced economic assistance."

But standing in the way of a policy revision, according to Funderburk, are some senior U.S. officials with a vested interest in sustaining the image of Romania as a Soviet Bloc maverick deserving of U.S. concessions.

"There are people back in Washington who will go the limit to make excuses for and to defend Ceausescu, because their jobs, promotions, careers depend on proving they were right about Romania," he said.

"So every three or four weeks, we give them something -- a high-level visit, a trade concession, whatever. We ought to get more from these people for the concessions we make."

Funderburk said other western countries are ahead of the United States in reassessing formerly positive approaches to Romania. He said he had seen diplomatic reports describing increasingly negative views of Romania among several Western European states and a report by an official of a neutral European country who, after visiting most East Bloc countries recently, concluded Romania ranked worst in observance of human rights and general conditions.

To support his charges against Washington officials, Funderburk cited several instances in which he said administration members sought to refute material contrary to Romania's independent image or to temper public criticism of Romania. On Soviet presence: "Our guys observed a large Soviet presence in Romania that was not welcome news to some officials in Washington. On our own initiative, we looked in registries, checked schools, traced license plates and came up with an ungodly number of resident Soviets, including Soviet agents in factories monitoring Romanian exports to the Soviet Union. This should have been an indication that Soviet-Romanian cooperation is closer than had been reported previously and a sign that Romania is a more reliable Warsaw Pact partner than is commonly thought. Instead, the information was ignored."

On Soviet-Romanian trade: "I've reported that Soviet-Romanian trade relations are getting closer. But this was downplayed by some in Washington who found ways of juggling figures to suggest the increase doesn't have much meaning. Part of my argument was that the Soviet percentage in overall Romanian trade has risen. They answered me with the argument that this was only a statistical aberration resulting from a drastic cutback of Romania's imports from the West."

On technology transfers: "There is evidence reported by various sources that Romania has transferred to the Soviet Union technology it obtained from the West, although it denies this. Those at State concerned about maintaining or improving good relations with Romania have tended to make light of such information. In virtually every case when the sale to Romania of a particular U.S. product has been disputed among American agencies, State has argued for the sale.

"To facilitate one deal, I was asked to reconsider a negative opinion I had sent in. We were considering selling the Romanians a ground station to receive geological and agricultural data from a Landsat satellite. I didn't change my mind, and the sale hasn't yet been approved.

On arms exports: Figures prepared by the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency on the world's leading arms exporters were published last October in Business Week. They listed Romania as the fifth largest exporter in 1982. Funderburk said Deputy Defense Minister Ilie Ceausescu, Nicolae's brother, denied that Romania exported weaponry.

"When we reported the fact of Romania's ranking to Washington, they went bananas," Funderburk said. "Agencies scrambled and said it couldn't be true. But we hadn't fabricated a thing. We were just reading from ACDA figures. The first response from Washington came back to us saying, you nasty guys, Romania couldn't have been fifth. Weeks later, we got an acknowledgment, a short and quiet one, conceding that perhaps Romania ranked within a notch or two of the published figure."

On human rights: Funderburk said the European Bureau at the State Department has shown a willingness to water down or delete criticism of Romania's human rights abuses, although State's own Human Rights Bureau has forcefully condemned Romanian oppression.

Funderburk said he resigned not for political reasons but out of personal and family considerations and to return to Campbell University in North Carolina to teach government studies. He agreed to meet here with this reporter, whom Romania denied entry last week because of past articles.

Funderburk said his conflicts with some senior policy makers in Washington had been compounded by the cloud under which he began as a diplomat.

"From the beginning I was branded an unseasoned, naive political appointee, a Helmsite and a radical," he said. "Efforts were made to try to isolate me and this embassy from the policy-making process.

"Word filtered back to me that Eagleburger Lawrence Eagleburger, undersecretary of state, who retired last year thought I was carrying on a parallel policy. At one point, he sent me an eyes-only cable which I interpreted as saying, why are you calling so much attention to human rights and let's not allow it to get in the way of a good thing."

He said he sees "Eagleburger proteges" in the State Department's European Bureau as most responsible for the policy he faults.