The two bureaucrats most responsible for disseminating U.S. news and views abroad -- U.S. Information Agency Director Bruce Gelb and Voice of America Director Richard W. Carlson -- amplified their long-standing feud yesterday before a standing-room-only audience of 1,000 employees.

The unusual and candid meeting between the two rivals, both of them high-ranking political appointees, took place at Gelb's insistence and over Carlson's objections on the subject of a reorganization announced earlier this month by Gelb.

While Gelb sought to explain his decision to consolidate VOA's budget, public relations and personnel departments under USIA, the VOA's parent organization, the meeting turned instantly into a sarcastic jostling match.

Responding to an employee's rhetorical question about whether a subordinate who disagrees with his superior should resign "rather than go to the newspapers", Gelb said: "I agree with that, honesty . . . I would respect that . . . . I think you have a very good point."

Carlson, seated behind Gelb on the stage of the VOA auditorium, took the microphone.

"It would be a terrible mistake for me to ignore the implication of that question. . . . I didn't go to the newspapers. . . . I have no intention of resigning. I truly regret we've had to air these things in this venue."

Last February the feud between the two men, whose jobs include promoting a positive image of the United States overseas, had become so heated that they were summoned to the White House and ordered to make peace.

Gelb, former vice chairman of the board of directors of Bristol-Myers Co., was appointed by President Bush in 1989 to head the 8,700-employee agency responsible for libraries, educational exchanges and other information activities overseas. He has tried to fire Carlson twice since his appointment.

Carlson, a multimillionaire former broadcaster and unsuccessful candidate for mayor of San Diego, was appointed in 1986 by then-President Ronald Reagan and reappointed by Bush, has had enough political backing from the White House and Capitol Hill to survive Gelb's attacks.

Gelb called the meeting to explain his decision to consolidate some VOA administrative functions within the USIA bureaucracy and to assuage fears of wide-scale layoffs among employees.

He told the audience that reorganization was necessary under the current budget restrictions "to reduce redundancy."

"The purpose of doing this was to make sure we had some way to find the money to fund an extremely large amount lacking in our budget," he said.

Charles Bell, a USIA spokesman, said that although this year's $1 billion USIA budget is slightly higher than last year's, inflation and the weakness of the dollar overseas has meant a decline in the budget's real purchasing value. As a result, he said, the agency has a $30 million to $40 million shortfall over last year.

About 40 USIA positions have been slated for termination, said an agency source.

To cope with its own budgetary restrictions, VOA, which has about 3,000 employees and broadcasts in 43 languages, has reduced its on-air radio time by about 20 percent since 1986, according to a VOA official.

VOA employees at the meeting were also concerned that a stronger USIA hand in VOA's operations would further blur the careful line reporters now walk between being a government agency and a credible journalistic enterprise.

As an example of this interference, employees pointed to Gelb's attempt last July to forbid the VOA from carrying an NBC News interview with the then recently released Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi.

Gelb explained his decision at the meeting, saying, "I personally, acting on my own, felt the situation in China was so sensitive and difficult . . . I felt {the interview} would be unnecessarily dangerous at a sensitive time."

Critics, including Carlson, said Gelb ignored Carlson's advice on the reorganization and that Gelb made the decision without consulting him. Yesterday, Gelb acknowledged that he and Carlson had not communicated sufficiently, and at one point during the meeting, Gelb attempted a verbal handshake with his adversary. But he failed.

"The VOA is very fortunate in having an experienced, dedicated and involved professional running it. . . . {I was under} pressure to find someone more politically perfect or current," said Gelb. "Yes, Dick and I disagree on some issues. . . . I am not a pantywaist myself. . . . I know we have not spent as much time together as we should have."

Carlson, standing silently behind him, then spoke up. "Thank you Bruce for making such an ecumenical remark," he said to laughter. "I think I've demonstrated to Bruce I'm not totally a political anachronism."