Those who know about the situation say that it all might have gone Norman Christeller's way - the high-level job in the Carter administration, the $47,500 salary, the prestige and the perks - if he only hadn't opened his mouth.

But the former Montgomery County Council president went ahead anyway, telling his colleagues and the world late last month that he intended to resign his seat on the Council to take an unspecified, high-level management post wih the federal government.

At that moment, it all began to shipaway.

The job involved was that of inspector general of the Africulture Department, a position that had been quietly shelved some seven years ago during the Nixon administration.

Incoming Agriculture Secretary Robert Bergland decided to resuscitate the inspector general's job, in order to enhance the department's ability to police its own affairs.

Some weeks ago, Bergland interviewed Christeller for the post, and apparently gave the Montgomery County Councilman considerable reason to believe that the job would be his.

But one key question had not been decided at that time: would the post be considered a civil service job, with the attendant requirements of posting notices, receiving applications, and rating applilcants? Or would it be a "Schedule C," political appointment, exempt from these rules?

Because of the sensitive nature of the job - one of investigating outside normal channels to determine if there are problems or crimes in the department - the post was put in the civil service category, to defuse possible charges that political considerations influenced the inspector general's actions, Agriculture Department spokesman Thomas Sand said last month.

And given the intricate requirements of the civil service system, with its lists and rankings, Christeller could not be considered the automatic choice for the job.

"All the people involved agreed on the phone with (Christeller) that it would be premature for him to announce that he would resign," Sand said last month. "But he apparently didn't understand it that way."

And one person who knows the feelings of the people who do the hiring in Agriculture put it more bluntly last week. "He blew it," said the source.

"The judgment that he demonstrated in (making the announcement of his impending resignation) did not lead us to believe that that's what we were looking for in that job. It certainly didn't help."

When asked about the timing of his anouncement last month, Christeller defended the move, saying, "I made this announcement out of a sense of obligation to my colleagues on the County Council and to the people of Montgomery County . . .

"I felt that the Council members should know that I might not be on the Council in early May when the budget decisions are made."

Early May has come, and Christeller is still on the Council, so enmeshed in the intricacies of budget decisions that, according to an aide, he has not had time to talk to the press or to the Agriculture Department about what happened to the job he apparently thought he had.

"He hasn't been getting more than an hour or two's sleep a night," the aide said.

The aide added that, as far as she knows, the 53-year-old Christeller still intends to resign his Council post which pays $18,000 annually. In addition to his Council job, Christeller, who worked in management posts in the federal government some years back, is a partner in a retail carpet and drapery store.

In private discussions, Christeller has indicated some weariness with the incessant pace of county government and the continuing expactations [WORD ILLEGIBLE] he would run for county executive.

However, his aide added, "He might change his mind. I don't know. They (his colleagues on the Council and in the county Democratic party) could all get together and say, "Hey, we need you, and draft him back on the Council."

Meanwhile, back at Agriculture, spokesman Sand said last week that a list of about 20 current federal employees eligible for the inspector general's job has been prepared.

"Right now we feel obligated to hire from the list of those eligible within the government - which puts Christeller in a very bad position," Sand added.