The General Services Administration announced the appointment yesterday of the first high-level federal official responsible for creating more child care facilities at government agencies.

The appointment was one of a series of actions that GSA Administator Terence C. Golden had promised to take to promote on-site centers for federal workers here and in other parts of the country.

Barbara M. Leonard, a former Rhode Island manufacturer and 1984 Republican senatorial candidate who has been GSA's regional administrator for New England, was named to the position and will report directly to Golden on child care issues.

"GSA is assuming responsibility for getting child care centers in government," Golden said yesterday, adding that the project has the agency's "total commitment." He said GSA would help agencies survey employes about their child care needs and help start centers.

Rep. Cardiss Collins (D-Ill.), who has criticized GSA for not doing more for child care in the federal government, hailed Golden yesterday for having "taken up the gauntlet."

"We know that our federal government is out front," Collins said at a news conference and official opening of the GSA's new on-site child care center at its headquarters at 18th and F streets NW.

There are 12 child care centers in GSA-controlled buildings throughout the country, including seven in the Washington area, according to GSA. Other child care centers serve federal employes in buildings not controlled by GSA, such as one at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board at 17th and G streets NW and one for the House of Representatives at 501 First St. SE.

High fees and long waiting lists for spaces for infants are problems confronting several of the centers.

At the GSA center, there is a year's waiting list for its 11 infant slots, but there are vacancies for toddlers and preschoolers.

The House center, which opened in September, will open a second infant care service Monday with 10 slots in addition to the eight spaces they have now, said Natalie Gitelman, the center's director.

Fees at the House center range up to $130 a week for infants, the highest among the on-site federal facilities in this area, and some Hill workers have complained that this put the center out of the reach of lower-paid employes. Gitelman said the center had tried to make the center available for all employes by starting a scholarship program that helps 30 percent of the children enrolled.

The weekly fees at the new GSA center are $87.50 for preschoolers and $115 for infants. Golden acknowledged that making care affordable for lower-income employes is "a major issue" at such facilities.

Another program, this one a privately financed effort aimed at dealing with latchkey children, was announced yesterday at the Department of Health and Human Services. Whirlpool Corp. and the American Home Economics Association are starting a pilot project, with the District of Columbia as one of five test sites, to advise communities on how to start after-school programs.

One of the goals would also be to teach safety measures to latchkey children.

Officials with the program cited statistics showing that 2 million to 6 million children aged 6 to 13 take care of themselves for part of the day. Some 6,000 children a year die in accidents and fires at home and "in nearly every instance there is no adult present," they said.