The Department of Energy's proposal to reduce the scope of the residential energy audit program is unlikely to save as much money as the agency expects, the General Accounting Office says.

Furthermore, GAO warned in a report to Congress, some of the proposals could adversely affect the Residential Conservation Service (RCS) program, which requires large utilities to perform low-cost energy audits of customers' homes.

When DOE offered the revisions last November, Energy Secretary James Edwards described them as "simple and flexible without significantly affecting program objectives." Among other changes, the proposals would eliminate auditor training requirements and post-installation inspections and limit covered conservation and solar measures to those that pay back within seven years.

In documents supporting the proposal, DOE said the revisions "will permit states and utilities to substantially reduce the costs of implementing the RCS program. Initial estimate of cost reduction: 50 percent."

GAO said that DOE provided no documentation supporting that estimate. Its own analysis indicates that "major cost savings from these changes are unlikely to be achieved," the report said.

The agency also took DOE to task for its handling of the RCS program generally, citing staff and budget limitations for failing to review state plans, issue necessary regulations or implement a monitoring system.

"As a result, nearly half of the states either do not have an RCS program or are not implementing the program consistent with existing regulations or approved state plans," GAO said. Maryland has an approved RCS plan. The District's plan is awaiting final action. Virginia has not submitted an RCS plan for approval.

A response to GAO's comments is being drafted, Mark Friedrichs of DOE's Conservation and Renewable Energy Office said this week. It may be issued in two or three weeks, he said.

A cost estimate is being prepared, he said, but it will not be completed before DOE announces its revised rules in mid-June.

DOE, which has tried to discontinue the audit program as an unnecessary burden on states and utilities, requested no funds for RCS for fiscal year 1982. Congress rejected the move and made about $3.4 million available from deferred fiscal year 1981 funds. The administration's fiscal year 1983 budget also provides no funds for RCS.