Nancy Harvey Steorts, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, sometimes used an agency car for personal purposes, according to a former driver for the commission, who served as her chauffeur in 1981 and 1982.
Michael A. Hager, 29, who was laid off from his job at the agency in late January, says that the errands included taking Steorts to a hairdresser on at least five occasions, making at least two trips to Rockville from downtown Washington to deposit money in Steorts' bank for her, picking up dresses for her at a boutique near the White House and drapery fabric at a G Street NW store, and driving her daughter to the White House to visit friends.
In an interview, Hager said he also drove Steorts to and from her home in Bethesda on at least a half dozen occasions. The car was a Ford Granada leased by the agency.
Through a spokesman, Lou Brott, Steorts declined to comment about the matter.
Officials in federal departments are generally prohibited by law from using government cars for personal use--except for cars for the use of the president, his executive branch departments and certain high-ranking diplomats. The exceptions have often been interpreted liberally rather than narrowly.
The appropriations law that funds the Department of Housing and Urban Development and independent regulatory agencies including the CPSC provides that no part of the funds will be spent for transporting officials and staff between home and office. An exception is provided for the Secretary of HUD.
The types of uses described by Hager would be improper, in the opinion of Lowell Stockdale, acting director of the General Services Administration's federal fleet management division, which oversees the use of government cars.
Steorts, who was consumer affairs adviser at the Department of Agriculture under secretary Earl Butz and later a public relations consultant, was appointed CPSC chairman in August 1981. Shortly after that, reports began circulating among agency employes that she was using the agency's car for personal reasons. The agency kept no records on the car's use until recently, thus there was no way to verify these reports.
During the time he worked at the agency, Hager refused to discuss the matter with reporters. He was laid off in late January, because his temporary two-year job could not be renewed, under civil service rules. According to agency officials, his departure had nothing to do with his role as Steorts' driver.
Shortly after he left the agency, he agreed to discuss Steorts' use of the agency's car.
According to Hager's recollections, which he says are supported in some instances by notes he kept, he:
* Sometimes took Steorts to a beauty salon at 17th and I streets NW. On Jan. 25, March 12, and April 30 of last year, he took Steorts to the beauty parlor after picking her up from her home about 6:30 a.m. Afterward, he drove her to the airport, according to his notes.
On at least three other occasions--March 23, April 16 and April 27--he either took her to the beauty salon or picked her up on the way back to her office.
* Made two trips to Frankie Welch's dress store near the White House to pick up dresses Steorts had bought. Hager said that on March 22, he drove Steorts from the White House to Welch's--two blocks away--and waited while she tried on clothing.
* Made at least two round-trip drives to Rockville to deposit checks into her account at the First Women's Bank of Maryland.
* Took her credit union payments to the White House for deposit.
* Drove her daughter and two of the daughter's friends to the White House to visit other friends.
* On April 28, he took Steorts' special assistant, Naomi Faison, to a store on G Street NW to pick up fabric for curtains that Faison told him were for Steorts' home. Hager says he also took Faison home at least once. Faison declined to comment on these statements.
* Sometimes drove the chairman from Steorts' office at 18th and L streets for lunch at the Mayflower Hotel at Connecticut Avenue and L Street NW, as well as to other nearby restaurants.
* Sometimes stayed at work late at night to drive Steorts to receptions. On April 27, after taking her to the beauty salon, Hager drove the chairman home in the late afternoon, waited about an hour for her to change clothes, and drove her to the Washington Hilton.
Hager said he didn't know whether the trips to functions involved official business.
He said he complained about his driving duties to a superior--Alfred Lucas, director of CPSC's division of management services--at least two times. According to Hager, Lucas told him, "she's the chair," so he felt he had to continue doing the errands or lose his job. Lucas also referred a questioner to Brott, who would not comment on Hager's charges.
The question of use of government cars has caused trouble for other Reagan appointees. Robert Nimmo, the former head of the Veterans Administration, was criticized sharply for using a government driver to drive him to and from work. Nimmo agreed to repay the government for the use of the driver.
Also agreeing to reimburse the government for overtime costs for using an agency car to commute from his home in McLean was Donald I. Hovde, undersecretary of the Housing and Urban Development Department.
In the fall of 1981, Steorts stirred controversy when she ordered that Hager wear a suit whenever he drove her around town. Initially, Steorts had requested that Hager wear a chauffeur's uniform--complete with hat. However, when she was informed that such a requirement was illegal, she said Hager must wear a suit or risk being fired. "When he is driving the car, it is appropriate for him to wear a suit," Steorts said at the time. Hager said he didn't own a suit and couldn't afford one at the time, and two top agency officials pitched in and bought him one.
Since then, other commission members have urged Steorts to have the driver keep records on the car's use, agency officials say. Steorts began to do so about three months ago, but these logs do not record the driver's destination and are of little help in determining whether the car has been used for personal reasons, these officials say.
Last week, these officials say, the commissioners urged Steorts to begin keeping more detailed records on the car's use. The commissioners are reportedly concerned that controversy over use of the agency vehicles could harm the agency as it faces a new debate in Congress over its future.
The CPSC must be reauthorized this year. Two years ago in the last reauthorization battle, the agency barely survived, and commission officials fear similar attempts to kill it will be made again this year.