Calling the U.S. government unprepared to prevent or cope with a chemical, biological or nuclear attack, a bipartisan commission headed by former CIA director John M. Deutch has recommended the appointment of a national director to coordinate the nation's defense against weapons of mass destruction.

At least a dozen terrorist groups have expressed an interest in or actively sought chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and there is an "urgent need" for better intelligence about foreign plants that may produce such weapons, the commission's report says.

The 176-page report by Deutch's group, formally called the Commission to Assess the Organization of the Federal Government to Combat the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, is scheduled for release next week. It was made available yesterday to The Washington Post after a summary was published by the Baltimore Sun.

The report concludes that the government's current efforts both to prevent the spread of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and to cope with the possible use of such weapons in a terrorist attack are disorganized.

The new national director for combating proliferation would sit on the National Security Council and chair a group of senior officials who would coordinate policy. Such a structure might not "solve" the problem, the report says, but it would at least provide a comprehensive and thorough approach.

The report says research on foreign efforts to produce chemical and biological agents "is fragmented among the CIA, the Army and [Energy Department] laboratories."

At the same time, "despite the expenditure of several billion dollars" since the 1991 Gulf War, the vulnerability of U.S. troops to chemical and biological weapons has only increased, the report says.

The report cites other examples of "many separate government agencies that have overlapping jurisdiction" over aspects of the problem. It suggests that the vice president could be put in charge of nonproliferation efforts, a move that the panel's vice chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said "would institutionalize the commitment from the White House."

The panel notes that in January the FBI placed proliferation on its list of national security threats and set up a special unit to investigate "the acquisition of U.S. technology for the development of weapons of mass destruction by foreign countries." In the face of allegations of Chinese espionage at the nation's nuclear weapons labs, the FBI contracted with the Energy Department to have the laboratories "identify technologies and industry sectors which might be targets" for those "bent on acquiring weapons of mass destruction."

One of the panel's unusual complaints is directed at Congress, which it says "must also put its house in order."

It calls on the House and Senate to reduce the number of committees with oversight and budgetary responsibility for nonproliferation programs, noting that there are 10 in the House alone. It also calls for a reduction in the number of reports on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons issues that Congress demands from the executive branch. It lists 112 separate reports in an appendix.