President-elect George Bush and other politicians should make adult literacy a national priority and commit up to $550 million for promoting it, says a report released Thursday by a non-partisan research institute.

"The primary need is for leadership," says the report, called "Jump Start: The Federal Role in Adult Literacy" and issued by the Southport Institute for Policy Analysis.Forrest Chisman, author of the study, said he is encouraged by Bush's stated interest in being an "education president" and his wife Barbara's longtime activism in literacy.

Chisman, director of Southport's Project on Adult Literacy, recommended new federal spending of $550 million but said even less would permit "a quantum leap forward."

An estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of U.S. adults, some 20 million to 30 million people, lack basic literacy skills.

Many are in the work force. Chisman contends this aspect of the literacy problem has the greatest immediate economic importance and should receive more attention.

"Most public and private programs are not available to people who are on the job," he wrote. "Almost all federal resources are targeted on the unemployed or other disadvantaged groups."

In an accompanying statement, Mrs. Bush said she hoped the report would "lead to a more unified, coherent approach to this major national concern."

Among Chisman's recommendations:

- A six-month task force to set literacy goals and means of achieving them, and a Cabinet Council on Adult Literacy to coordinate federal efforts.

- Passage of an Adult Basic Skills Act to set up a National Center for Adult Literacy, establish matching grants for state and local programs, and create a training program for adult literacy workers.

- Authorization of basic skills training for the employed under the Job Training Partnership Act.