Members of two House subcommittees took Uncle Sam to the woodshed yesterday for failing to curb his appetite for electricity and motor fuel.

They said that federal spending on energy reached $8.7 billion last year and is increasing. They said consumption is rising, funds for conservation and efficiency projects have been cut and little progress has been made toward compliance with a 1988 law requiring a 10 percent reduction in energy use in federal buildings by 1995.

Data on government energy spending were released at a joint hearing of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on energy and power and the Government Operations subcommittee on environment, energy and natural resources. The Defense Department alone spent $2.3 billion and uses 2.5 percent of all energy consumed in the United States.

"This doesn't bode well" for prospects for compliance with the 1988 act, observed Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.).

Rep. Philip R. Sharp (D-Ind.) called it "mystifying that the {Bush} administration has not issued an executive order directing the agencies to do more to save energy."

President Jimmy Carter issued such an order during the energy crisis of the mid-1970s, but it lapsed during the Reagan administration. Much of the discussion at yesterday's hearing consisted of complaints from Democrats that the Bush administration has not acted forcefully to provide energy conservation leadership, despite an assertion from Energy Secretary James D. Watkins that conservation will be a major focus of the national energy policy Bush is expected to issue in January.

Synar produced a chart showing that overall energy use per square foot in federal facilities increased 1.1 percent between 1985 and 1989 -- a time when private industry and local governments were achieving substantial energy reductions through conservation and installation of new equipment.

Consumption at the Energy Department dropped 10.1 percent in those years, according to Synar's data. The Commerce and Justice departments and the Environmental Protection Agency achieved greater reductions, but Defense Department consumption, the biggest single component, rose 1.4 per- cent.

Jeffrey A. Jones, the Pentagon's energy policy director, said the Defense Department is "proud of the energy conservation accomplishments of the military departments during the period of 1975 to 1985," when consumption declined 18.3 percent. He also said that "progress toward the 1995 10 percent goal appears to be on target."

But several members of the panels rejected that claim. Synar, noting that the Pentagon's spending on energy conservation retrofits and new equipment declined from "a paltry $1.5 billion" in 1989 to zero in the current year, accused the Pentagon of "an appalling lack of forethought" and demanded to know the reason.

"Competition for funds," Jones said. "It's priorities. Everyone wants to spend the peace dividend."

By a different method of calculating energy use, he said, the Pentagon figures it cut consumption by 5.4 percent, rather than increasing it as Synar said.

Reps. Ronald K. Machtley (R-R.I.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) last week introduced a bill that would give military base commanders an incentive to conserve by allowing them to keep some of the savings.

Witnesses from the General Services Administration and from private industry said the government could save up to $2.5 billion a

year through energy conservation, but they also gave many reasons why such savings are hard to achieve.

The most important one, they said, is that conservation requires investment in new equipment, and while such investments pay for themselves in less than three years, Washington's budget process makes it difficult to obtain the money.

SELECTED DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES

.....................BTU Per Gross Square Foot*..........% Change

..................Fiscal 1985..........Fiscal 1989

Energy................777,128..............698,983.......... 10.1

Veterans..............323,400..............331,391...........+2.5

Health and

Human Services........557,484..............587,535...........+5.4

Justice...............420,327..............331,181.......... 21.2

Agriculture...........194,622..............189,440........... 2.7

Interior..............143,630..............129,148.......... 10.1

Treasury..............251,178..............396,522..........+57.9

Defense...............225,349..............228,432...........+1.4

General Services

Administration........174,688..............193,845..........+11.0

Office of Personnel

Management............196,486..............252,907..........+28.7

Federal Energy

Regulatory Commission.350,090..............411,803..........+17.6

*A BTU, British Thermal Unit, is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit.

SOURCE: Federal Agency Quarterly Energy Use Reports