Government officials who enjoy such taxpayer-support perks as chefs and chauffeurs can relax next year: Rep. Allen E. Ertel is running for the governorship of Pennsylvania, so he won't be back in Congress. That's good news to high-living bureaucrats because Ertel has been their nemesis. Over the last five years, the Pennsylvania Democrat has:
* Objected to the increasing size of the First Lady's staff when Rosalynn Carter was in the White House.
* Written to Richard Dixon suggesting he repay $66,000 in taxpayer dollars spent to fix up his San Clemente estate.
* Objected to then-HEW secretary Joseph Califano hiring a private cook.
* Caused Veterans Administration chief Robert Nimmo to give up the Buick Electra leased for him by the government and repay the treasury for overtime paid his chauffeur.
* Objected to substantial overtime pay incurred by chauffeurs assigned Transportation Secretary Donald Regan.
Allen Ertel is no grandstander speaking in a loud voice and carrying a big shtick. He is a serious, low-key, former district attorney with a strict sense of fair play.
"What bothers me," says 45-year-old Ertel, "is that I came from the private sector, and I did pretty well. But is seems to me that you don't come into the public sector and take every perk you can at public expense. I think it's an arrogance of power."
Or, as he said more pointedly in a letter to the VA's Nimmo objecting to reports of his big car, chauffeur's overtime expenses and extensive office redecoration: "It is particularly appalling that you would take such action during the fiscal year the president's budget curtailed veterans' eductional, dental and burial benefits."
Following an investigation by the VA's inspector general, Nimmo reimbursed the government $6,441 for a chauffeur who drove him between his home and office and ended a government lease on a car that was larger (and received poorer gas mileage) than the compact cars permitted officials. At this writing, the Government Accounting Office is investigating $54,183 spent by Nimmo to redecorate his office and private bathroom.
Ertel earned his spurs in Williamsport, Pa., where in addition to working as a lawyer in private practice, he was the district attorney in the early 1970s. There, in a town better known as the birthplace of Little League Baseball and the home of the good news newspaper called Grit, Ertel prosecuted a citywide scandal that ended with the conviction of the mayor on charges of tapping telephones in city hall.
A graduate of Yale Law School, Ertel joined Congress in 1976 and gained a reputation as a legislator with a sharp eye for detail. Unlike the Senate's William Proxmire, whose Golden Fleece Award attracts national attention, Ertel's pricking of bureaucrats is no highly publicized crusade. His objections to excesses are based on a close reading of the law, and, as Nimmo learned, Ertel requests GAO investigations and carefully follows the results.
"It's just that somewhere along the way," says Ertel, "you've got to point these guys out."