Consumer Product Safety Commission chairman S. John Byington has fired the secretary of the commission, charging that the senior official was "absent from (his) office for approximately 40 per cent of the time for the three-month period of August, September and October 1977 without taking any official leave time."

Richard Rapps, 38, has held the position of secretary since June 8, when he was put there by Byington. As late as Sept. 26, 1977, Byington had the following positive statements to make about Rapps in a letter of recommendation:

"In all of his work with the CPSC, Mr. Rapps has fulfilled his duties in an outstanding fashion. He has shown a rare depth of professional competence and the highest order of ability in his legal and administrative endeavors."

Rapps was hired by Byington in January, 1977.

Rapps had been the secretary of the Renegotiation Board, another federal regulatory agency. But Byington hired Rapps to be Associate Executive Director for Compliance and Enforcement of the CPSC, according to Rapps, and never actually gave him that job.

Rapps did serve in that position in an acting capacity from January 13 until June 8, 1977. During that time he received two exceptional personnel evaluations from CPSC officials, both signed by Byington.

But Byington decided for reasons that are unclear, to move Rapps over to the secretary post, and not make him a permanent employee in Compliance.Byington said the move was planned from the beginning. Rapps says it was never mentioned.

After that, things began to sour between Byington and Rapps. There are conflicting reports as to which side is to blame for what became a difficult situation.

In any event, Rapps contacted an old friend. Office of Management and Budget chief James MacIntyre in November and asked him what he could do about his job problems.

MacIntyre reportedly paved the way for Rapps to see Alan Campbell, head of the Civil Service Commission.

Rapps' allegation became part of a larger investigation that the Civil Service Commission was already conducting into the CPSC and its personnel policies.

That study culminated in a scathing report released last week charging the agency with improper personnel actions in at least 30 different cases.

The day the report was delivered to the CPSC, that agency's Director of Personnel, David J. Dunn, announced his resignation.