The American Red Cross has an inadequate record-keeping system in its national office and should revise procedures for handling reports of contaminated blood from local affiliates, an investigator for the Food and Drug Administration testified yesterday.

Mary Carden, who inspected the national office in May, told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations that during the last year the office sometimes took months to review reports of persons infected by the AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) from transfusions performed with blood provided by its regional affiliates.

Since a test for the virus was instituted in 1985, 11 persons have contracted AIDS from transfusions although an unknown number may have been infected with the virus, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. AIDS symptoms can occur years after infection with the virus.

Earlier this week the Red Cross said there has been no instance in which a person is known to have contracted AIDS or Hepatitis B, another blood-borne disease, "as a result of procedural or technical or computer error on the part of the Red Cross."

Carden also testified that the national office, in some instances, failed to report to the FDA cases in which local affiliates drew blood from donors who were at risk for contracting the AIDS virus or tested positive for the Hepatitis B virus. When such blood is drawn in error, the Red Cross is supposed to file a report with the FDA, even if the suspect blood is destroyed, Carden said.

"I would characterize the general overall tone of the {office's response to the FDA} inspection as very nonchalant," she said, adding that most blood-banking groups usually respond promptly to her reports. "In the case of of this inspection . . . that type of attitude did not prevail." The Red Cross coordinates the largest blood-bank organization in the United States.

Earlier this week, the FDA released Carden's report after the Philadelphia Inquirer published a story based the report.

Stephen Richards, senior vice president of the American Red Cross, said the organization will release a formal response to Carden's report next week. But, at a break during yesterday's hearing, Richards said the blood supply is safe and that the Red Cross has been responsive to FDA comments.

Carden also testified that the Red Cross had problems with its computer system and needed to improve the way in which it tracks donors showing positive for HIV.

Earlier this week, Walter Lawrinson, medical director of the blood bank at Washington Hospital Center, said in an interview that the problems in the Red Cross record-keeping do not threaten public safety. The center's blood bank is not affiliated with the Red Cross.

But in the past, according to several witnesses yesterday, the blood-bank industry was slow to take steps to ensure safety of the blood supply.

Marcus Conant, a professor at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco, testified that until the HIV test became available in 1985, the blood-bank industry dragged its feet in instituting other tests that would have helped screen blood for AIDS. Conant said the industry was slow to screen high-risk donors because of fears these actions would "threaten the financial viability of a blood bank."

"Our blood banks failed us, the blood industry failed us, the Centers for Disease Control failed us and the Food and Drug Administration failed us," he charged.

Ross Eckert, a professor at Claremont McKenna College who has studied blood-bank safety, said blood banks had been afraid of losing healthy donors if they instituted stricter screening procedures.

Richards said he was upset because the Red Cross was not asked to testify at yesterday's hearing.