Former postmaster general Paul N. Carlin suggested in an affidavit read at a House hearing yesterday that the U.S. Postal Service board of governors fired him in January because he interfered with a kickback scheme involving a member of the board.

Carlin said Peter E. Voss, former vice chairman of the board of governors, and governor Ruth O. Peters pressured him to secure a contract with a Dallas-area manufacturer "almost immediately after I took office" in January 1985. Voss pleaded guilty last month to embezzlement and accepting kickbacks in a deal involving the manufacturer, Recognition Equipment Inc. (REI). The company denies knowledge of the kickback scheme.

Peters said Carlin was telling only part of the story. Earlier, she testified that she had "objected strenuously" to Carlin's appointment, saying "I did not think he was postmaster material."

Other postal board governors have said that Carlin was indecisive and unresponsive to the board.

But in an affidavit released yesterday, former governor William J. Sullivan supported Carlin. Sullivan described a December meeting at which he said other governors criticized Carlin's leadership. "I said he had been an effective CEO and he had made decisions, but that when some people disagreed with the decisions, they refused to accept them and called him indecisive," Sullivan said.

According to Sullivan, Peters then nominated Voss for postmaster general. Peters denied making a formal nomination, and said she suggested that one of the governors take the job. "Voss said, 'No, it shouldn't be one of us,' " Peters said.

In a June 13 interview with a Cleveland newspaper that he later tried to retract, Carlin explained why the board ousted him last January after one year on the job. "I wouldn't go along with the sole-source contract to REI, so I was fired," The Plain Dealer newspaper quoted him as saying.

Carlin's attorney, Robert Saltzstein, said Carlin is considering his legal options. Congressional sources said Carlin may seek damages and reinstatement as postmaster general.

The affidavits of Carlin and Sullivan were only a small part of a six-hour House Post Office and Civil Service Committee hearing in which seven postal board governors were criticized, grilled and scolded by committee members.

Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.), charging that the board has been unwilling to cooperate with investigations of its practices, told board Chairman John R. McKean: "You've been repeatedly arrogant and uncooperative . . . . Why don't you resign?"

McKean said he would not, but later tried to strike a conciliatory note. "I'm not leaving here with any sense of annoyance or defiance," he said. "We need to do something . . . . There is a real sense of a loss, that we have failed in our stewardship . . . . We have received the committee's message."

That message, as delivered by most of the committee members at the hearing, was strident.

"At the least, you were taken in, duped, flim-flammed by this gentleman Voss ," said Rep. Gerry E. Sikorski (D-Minn.). "Where's the anger? Where's the action . . . . What's wrong with your olfactory glands? This thing smells worse than pig barns I've cleaned up."

Chairman William D. Ford (D-Mich.) accused the board of "micromanaging" the Postal Service by interfering with collective bargaining, financial planning, modernization, procurement and personnel matters. "The Postal Service and the American people deserve better than what they have been getting from the seven people who are in front of us today," Ford said.

Several committee members questioned the board's use of attorney Joseph A. Califano, who is heading a review of postal procurement practices -- a probe they contend is duplicative and costly. McCloskey questioned why Califano, whom the Postal Service has paid more than $2 million since 1980, was employed to establish a blind trust for Postmaster General Albert V. Casey and to examine whether Florida laws would permit one of the board members to hold a state office.

Postal board governor John N. Griesemer responded to McCloskey's charge of "tremendous outside expenditures" by saying that he, too, questioned the legal fees and that his committee would examine them.

McCloskey also accused McKean of using the board's legal counsel to hinder other probes. McCloskey cited a letter from attorneys at the firm of Dewey, Ballentine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood -- where Califano is a managing partner -- setting out specific guidelines for obtaining transcripts of tape recordings from closed meetings of the board of governors. Postal inspectors ultimately subpoenaed the tapes. Grpahics/one: Paul N. Carlin . . . may seek reinstatement