Morris B. Abram, vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, castigated a House subcommittee chairman and the General Accounting Office yesterday for a critical audit that he called "part of a larger effort to discredit the commission because our ideas are unacceptable."

Democratic members of the subcommittee fired back by questioning Abram about unusually rapid promotions for two of his son's friends, who had been recommended by Abram for commission jobs.

The exchanges typified a contentious hearing at which four of the eight members of the commission, itself split between conservative and liberal factions, tried to respond to the GAO's charges of mismanagement and improper political hiring.

Abram criticized Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.), who requested the audit as chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee on civil and "The GAO has never before been attacked as a partisan organization. . . . " -- Rep. Don Edwards constitutional rights. And Abram said the GAO had relied on "innuendo" in its "continuing harassment" of the commission.

He was supported by commission Chairman Clarence M. Pendleton Jr., who testified that the audit was "unfair, inaccurate and incomplete."

Edwards declared that "there is no politics involved" in his criticism of the commission, adding: "The GAO has never before been attacked as a partisan organization . . . . I'm very surprised that the General Accounting Office would be the whipping boy."

The GAO reported finding widespread mismanagement, missing records and questionable spending at the commission under former staff director Linda Chavez, now a Republican candidate for the Senate from Maryland. It criticized the agency for hiring a large number of political appointees, temporary employes and consultants instead of career workers.

Pendleton said little at the hearing, maintaining that he is "not the day-to-day manager of the agency" and repeatedly insisting that staff director J. Al Latham Jr. be allowed to testify.

Edwards' insistence that the panel hear only from commissioners sparked heated criticism from Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who accused the panel of "a partisan witch hunt."

"I find it puzzling for people to spend all their time attacking the GAO," said Commissioner Mary Frances Berry, Pendleton's chief critic on the panel. Calling such criticism "irrelevant," she said the commission has failed to rebut the allegation that "we had an engorgement of political appointees."

Reps. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) and John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) questioned Abram about two commission employes hired for GS-7 positions, one of whom was promoted to a GS-11 job in nine months and the other to a GS-12 slot in 13 months.

Abram said that one was a former roommate of his son at Columbia University and the other a friend of his son and that he had recommended both for the jobs.

But, Abram said, "I had nothing to do with anyone's promotion or anyone's grade level." He said the two men are "extraordinary people" with "splendid academic records."

Abram said the real issue is commission opposition to racial quotas. Citing widespread publicity about various remarks by Pendleton, Abram said the news media never give similar coverage to controversial remarks by Berry and others who have "the correct social-engineering ideas."

"Where are these sanctimonious guardians of public discourse when Congressman Parren Mitchell D-Md. or others call Chairman Pendleton 'a low-level kind of houseboy' or 'Uncle Tom'?" Abram asked.

Pendleton, who the GAO said has turned his part-time post into a $67,000-a-year job, did not respond when Schroeder asked whether commissioners' billings should be limited.