Get a parking ticket in Montgomery County, and chances are the person who wrote it is a CETA police cadet. So, probably, is the clerk who will process your payment. And so, perhaps, is the messenger who delivered the blank ticket to the police station.

Call a Prince George's County government office, and the phone will almost certainly be answered by a CETA clerk-typist. A complaint will probably be investigated by another CETA clerk. A case file may well be kept by a third.

Other CETA workers in the two counties paint murals, maintain parks, run mimeograph machines or day care centers. Still others weatherize homes, learn to fix cars and study carpentry.

Now is its fifth year, the CETA program has been a major provider of federal dollars to Montgomery and Prince George's counties. But in the last 16 months, CETA funding has surged, greatly increasing the number of government employes and job training programs in the two counties. Meanwhile, CETA is beginning to have a substantial effect on the economies of Montgomery and Prince George's as well.

More than 8,000 people will have held CETA jobs or have taken CETA training in the Maryland suburbs in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. To pay them, pay for their training and pay for the administration of CETA programs, the two counties will have spent $19.3 million this fiscal year - $12.9 million in Prince George's, $6.4 million in Montgomery. That is more than either county spends on mental health or trash collection.

CETA dollars are all federal - appropriated by Congress as part of the $11.2 billion being spent this year for CETA across the nation.

The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), is by far the largest single jobs and job training program ever undertaken in the U.S. Its initials stand for Comprehensive Employment and Training Act.

CETA's main purpose is to train unemployed and economically disadvantaged persons for jobs, usually in private industry, or to place them immediately in public service jobs, usually under local governments. CETA funds local governments. CETA funds also support summer youth, Job Corps, veterans' and English-language tutorial programs.

The training component of CETA used to be where most of the money was spent. But Congress, alarmed by 8 percent unemployment levels and prodded by President Carter, rewrote CETA in 1977. As a result, in the current fiscal year, more than two-thirds of all CETA dollars are going to underwrite public service employment.

Public service employment provides jobs in government agencies or in nonprofit, private organizations. In Montgomery County, $4.5 million is being spent this year on public service jobs. In Prince George's, the total is $8.9 million.

To qualify for most public service jobs, a person must demonstrate two things: unemployment for 15 of the previous 20 weeks and membership in a family whose previous year's income did not exceed 70 percent of the government 's minimum standard of living. For a member of a family of four, that qualifying income "floor" is now about $7,000. For a single person, it is about $2,400.

Public service jobs are provided under two separate CETA titles: Title II, which gives money to communities where unemployment exceeds 6.5 percent, and Title VI, Carter's emergency jobs initiative, which funds public service jobs regardless of unemployment figures.

Title VI is by far the larger. In Prince George's, all but $968,000 of the county's total public service allocation for this fiscal year is Title VI money. All of Montgomery's public service allotment falls under Title VI because Montgomery's unemployment rate is too low for it to qualify for Title II funds.

More than 950 people now hold CETA public service jobs in the two counties. Because the jobs turn over rapidly, more than 2,000 people in the two counties will have held a CETA public service job in the course of this fiscal year.

But both Title II and Title VI jobs carry key "hookers": None of the jobs can last for more than a year, and none can provide a salary of more than $10,000 a year in CETA funds, although local governments can supplement salaries.

As a result, a major flaw of CETA, both nationally and in Maryland, is that it gets the unemployed into the job pipeline, but does nothing to keep them there or get them up the economic ladder.

"All we can say is that, hopefully, CETA employment leads to a permanent job funded some other way," said James Whitsett, associate regional administrator of DOL's Middle Atlantic Region.

But in fact, more than half the CETA public service enrollees nationally are unemployed again within a year. In addition, while they are part of CETA, enrollees do not receive fringe benefits.

"Title VI has been our biggest bugaboo," said David Goehring, chief of the Montgomery County division of labor services. "The concept is an incredibly difficult thing to manage. And it isn't easy to tell someone that when a program's over, that's it for him."

"If public service went down the tube tomorrow, I have 700 people who don't have jobs," said Donald H. Weinberg, Prince George's director of personnel. "We'd like to be doing a better job in the private sector, but for now, the push has been to fill, fill, fill those public service jobs."

Because public service is where the action is, it is also the place where most of CETA's well-publicized abuses have occurred.

The recent hassle over District of Columbia City Council CETA employes involved eligibility rules under Title VI. SO did the biggest single episode of fraud in CETA history - a $2 million eligibility scandal uncovered by DOL investigators in Chicago this spring.

The potential for further eligibility scandals has not diminished. Like virtually every "prime sponsor", or government body receiving CETA funds, neither Montgomery nor Prince George's independently checks the eligibility of CETA participants, and neither plans to.

"How can we?" asked Weinberg. "We don't have the time or the resources." The two counties leave the job to the U.S. Employment Service or each county employement service. But those agencies only conduct spot checks.

All CETA sponsors have one defense against eligibility fraud: a clause on application forms that requires applicants to answer questions "under penalties or perjury." But CETA officials here and at DOL regional headquarters in Philadelphia say it is still practically impossible to prevent ineligible persons from joining CETA programs. The best they can do is detect ineligibles later, officials said.

Very few ineligible participants have fraudulent intent, officials said, and usually they have discovered and ejected from CETA programs.

This summer, for example, a woman in her late 20s was discovered taking part in a CETA youth program in Montgomery County that had a maximum age limit of 22.

"She knew she was breaking the law," said Goehring. "She simply lied on the application." The woman was fired as soon as she was discovered, and the case has been referred to the state's attorney for possible prosecution, Goehring said.

Goehring insisted that such blatant fraud is rare.More common, he said was the case this summer of a woman 23 years old being accepted into a county CETA summer program.

"The woman had no idea that 22 was the upper limit," Goehring said. "No one ever told her. And someone in this office just couldn't subtract 1955 from 1978."

Although such incidents crop up from time to time, Labor Department investigators say they have not found any cases of malfeasance or influence-peddling on the part of county officials in the five years that Montgomery and Prince George's have been receiving CETA funds.

Five of the six Prince George's programs were labeled "unsstisfactory" by DOL in 1976, but the charge was "maladministration," not fraud. The county's CETA programs were reassigned from the Department of Human Resources to the Personnel Department as a result, and Philadelphia blessed all six programs later that year.

Prince George's has had satisfactory ratings from Philadelphia since. Montgomery's ratings have always been "satisfactory."

According to Weinberg, DOL's "unsatisfactory" findings were the result of "some misunderstandings with the regional representatives from Philadelphia.

"We didn't have the benefit of other agencies at that time. For example, we couldn't use data processing for client tracking. Plus we had some signatures that were a couple of days late, that kind of thing." Weinberg emphasized that Prince George's has never been accused of misusing funds.

But investigations remain the order of the day in Prince George's. Three are under way this month - a routine DOL review, a special inquiry ordered by the County Council and a grand jury investigation of a CETA construction training site where a 12-year-old boy was found murdered in June.Weinberg said he welcomes the investigations.

Officials in both counties said a far more serious problem with CETA programs is that they are designed to meet national goals, and thus do not translate well to the special needs and quirks of the metropolitan area.

Goehring, for example, has more than $2.1 million in CETA training funds this fiscal year. But he also has the lowest percentage of training graduates placed immediately in unsubsidized jobs in the Washington area: 32 percent.

"The reason is simply that there are no jobs, for trained people or untrained people," Goehring said. "Employes are not going to create positions in addition to what they need simply because the feds ask them to."

For similar reasons, Goehring said, CETA Title I funds that provide on-the-job training in private industry at no cost to the employer are going begging. Montgomery now has only 20 people enrolled in 13 "OJT" projects. Employers usually "just aren't interested," Goehring said.

Prince George's had been doing even worse with OJT. It did not subcontract its first OJT program to a private employer until four months ago. "It was just too much trouble" for employers, Weinberg said. "The image (among employers) is an entangled, red-tape thing that will require them to fill out hundreds of forms. Who needs it?"

Prince George's needed it, county officials finally decided.

Threatened with a loss next year of funds it didn't spend this year, officials sponsored a meeting at Capital Centre last December for 150 major county employers. Out of that have come 30 OJT contracts, including the largest single one in the Washington area - a bank teller training program for 53 people run by Suburban Trust Co.

Officials in both counties said CETA programs in the future must place much more emphasis on training than on public service employment. But counties have no control over how much money they get. Not only does Congress determine which CETA titles carry how much money, but the amount of CETA money that every government receives is determined solely by formula (a mix of census and employment data).

One way two jurisdictions can get a 5 percent bonus in CETA funds is to form a consortium, with one central administration.

Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia, which ran separate programs for five years, will form the Washington area's first consortium this fall.Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is studying a consortium that would encompass the entire Washington area.

But Maryland officials are suspicious and negative about the idea.

"There's a question of jurisdiction and control that just won't go away," said Weinberg. "There's fierce independence in this area," said Goehring. Both predicted, too, that no suburban government would want anything to do with the D.C. CETA program, which is under investigation by DOL officials.

Maryland CETA officials stressed that, in general, media coverage of their programs has been far more negative than the programs' results. "Morale among CETA directors is awful because of the newspapers," Goehring said. "Everyone's beating up on CETA; it's the thing to do." But he added that complaints from participants are virtually nil.

The goal of the two counties. Weinberg said, should be to "remove the stigma that CETA is a ripoff or a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] barrel. Sure, it's huge. But it's [WORD ILLEGIBLE] what it's supposed to do."