If you travel for Uncle Sam he will pay your way.

He will provide bed and board.

He will insure your life and, if you get taken hostage, he will keep your paycheck coming.

Ours is an understanding government--up to a point. Just don't try to hit it with an expense account item like "locksmith" unless you want a federal case on your hands.

If you get locked out of your car, or locked out of your hotel/motel room while on assignment, be advised that your government will disavow you quicker than you can say travel voucher.

We know this because the General Accounting Office has just rejected an expense account item, "locksmith, $30," put in for by a National Aeronautics and Space Administration worker. NASA people sometimes go to Los Angeles, which is where this particular attorney was when the kind of misfortune we've all suffered at one time struck.

The attorney--let's call him Bob, as he has suffered enough--used a rental car while in L.A. on official business. Everything was a-okay until the day he locked his keys in the car.

Bob contacted several locksmiths. Mindful that he was on an expense account, he chose the one who quoted the lowest rate. The locksmith did his duty, retrieved the car keys (they were on the seat) and gave Bob a receipt for his $30 fee.

It made a good story back in Washington. But Bob's bosses stopped laughing when he put in for the $30 charge.

NASA can handle sending a man to the moon. But a $30 bill from a locksmith is something else. So it did what all federal agencies do when stuck with a sticky financial wicket. It passed the buck to the General Accounting Office.

GAO, which has seen everything, didn't bat an eye. It searched its files until it found a precedent covering people who get locked out of things.

GAO found one. It found it had disallowed a somewhat similar claim made several years ago. That one was from the Department of Energy on behalf of an employe who locked himself out of his hotel room while he was out conducting official business.

When he discovered he was locked out the civil servant got a spare key from the hotel. The hotel charged him for the key. He thought he would pass the expense along to the government. Wrong!

In that case, GAO denied the claim for the extra key fee, on grounds that the man had no business losing it. Sometimes GAO can sound just like your mother.

Things like being reimbursed for a key because you-were-so-dumb-you-locked-yourself-out, GAO ruled, are "not essential to the transacting of official business." This despite the energy man's argument, which had some merit, that part of his official business was getting back in the room where his briefs, legal and otherwise, were. Tough darts! said the GAO. Pin your key to your shirt, wear it around your neck, but don't come waving some bill like that at us.

In both cases, the time, trouble (not to mention the salaries) of the GAO personnel involved in the decision probably cost a lot more than it would have to pay the charges. But now that GAO has ruled on being locked out of cars and hotel rooms it will have something to fall back on next time a similar claim comes up.