Utah officials reported a "robbery" to Congress Thursday - $14.4 million from the requested budget for building the Central Utah Project next year.

They described the suspects as "petty federal bureaucrats" who refused to fill the CUP to the brim with funds in retaliation for past criticism of them by the Utah congressional delegation.Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, warned he may retaliate himself. "If they think this senator was difficult to deal with last year, just wait." He is the only delegation member on an appropriations committee - which cuts up the federal funding pie. He vowed to replace the lost CUP funds in committee.

House and Senate appropriations subcommittees are holding hearings this week on year-to-year water project construction funding, to which water officials nationwide make annual treks with hats in hand seeking federal money.

Garn told a Senate panel that Washington bureaucrats cut $14 million out of the CUP construction budget proposed by regional Bureau of Reclamation officials. That leaves $50.1 million in the fiscal 1992 budget for CUP construction.

He added that in the past decade of Republican administrations, a president never recommended giving the CUP less than the bureau said it could effectively use in the decades-behind-schedule project to transfer water from eastern Utah to the thirsty Wasatch Front.

He noted the first such cut comes on the heels of his criticism last year of some of the same bureaucrats who now decided to cut the funds. "Candidly, I think that is because of some animosity at the Bureau of Reclamation and OMB (the Office of Management and Budget)," Garn told the panel.

Some officials at Bureau of Reclamation headquarters are upset at separate legislation by the Utah delegation that would raise the official CUP debt limit to allow completion of southern Utah irrigation systems, environmental work and compensation for Indian water rights.

They dislike how that bill would also take away control of future construction from the bureau and give it entirely to the local, 19-county Central Utah Water Conservancy District - which feels it can proceed more efficiently, and is entitled to because local governments now must pay more of the project costs.

Also, Garn strongly criticized the budget agency last year for opposing the same CUP completion bill, saying that agency constantly kept saying different things in public than it told him in private. He said he also guessed that the OMB was retaliating.

"I am tired of these bureaucratic games . . . especially in the fifth year of a drought," Garn said.

Central Utah Water Conservancy District Chairman Roscoe R. Garrett told Senate and House panels that the $14.4 million is "necessary to keep the project on schedule."