The future of William S. Heffelfinger will not stir debate at the corner bar, but it has become the subject of a bitter dispute in official Washington.

The skirmishing over Heffelfinger is so intense that it threatens to worsen the already taut relations between Congress and Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger.

Several key congressional energy leaders want the resilient career bureaucrat fired, but Schlesinger is just as resolute in retaining his director of administration of DOE.

Heffelfinger was appointed by Schlesinger to the sensitive supervisory job last year after he had been fired by the Department of Transportation because of his reputation as "A Republican hatchet man."

Moved into DOE by Under Secretary John F. O'Leary, who has said he was unaware of Heffelfinger's past, he supervises all manpower, budget and operations matters at the agency.

But at hearings last spring and through three congressional investigations, Heffelfinger has been accused of a long string of improprieties.

The allegations range from falsification of his employment record and perjury to threatening potential government contractors and bullying federal regulatory officials.

Reps. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) and Richard L. Ottinger (D-N.Y.) last March wrote to Schlesinger, demanding that he fire Heffelfinger for being "unsuited" for his powerful job.

Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, at the same time asked Schlesinger to personally look into the case.

But in neither instance has Schlesinger formally replied to the requests. He and O'Leary have forwarded copies of an internal DOE investigation to the legislators, but not responded further.

Dingell, meanwhile, as chairman of the House energy and power subcommittee, has added a section to the pending DOE authorization bill that would, in effect, bring about Heffelfinger's dismissal.

The bill, which is expected to be debated on the House floor next month, would make the DOE job subject to presidential appointment and confirmation by the Senate.

A counterpart measure in the Senate contains no such provision. But with Congress increasingly sensitive about prerogatives, it is expected the Dingell language would remain in a final conference version.

Although Dingell is declining to comment further publicly about the Heffelfinger affair, he denied yesterday that the language is directed at personalities.

"That is a job of the utmost sensitivity to the department and it should be made subject to Senate confirmation," Dingell said. "It is very central to administration of the department. The bill was not at all written directed at Heffelfinger."

But apparently only language in the authorization bill will force Schlesinger's hand. Departmental press aide Jim Bishop said the secretary has taken no position on Dingell's move.

When DOE was created, Bishop said, Schlesinger decided the job should be filled by a secretarial appointee. And, he added, there is no move afoot to remove Heffelfinger.

He indicated that Heffelfinger will remain in his $47,500-per-year job despite "rumors floated by Dingell's people" that a resignation may be forthcoming.

Bishop said that the secretary is aware of details of the internal investigation by DOE's inspector general and that "he is satisfied, so far," with it.

Assistants to Dingell, however, have raised questions about the DOE investigation, saying it "whitewashes" and "Misstates and understates" evidence of Heffelfinger's unsuitability.

"To believe Mr. Heffelfinger's protestations of innocence," the staff told Dingell in a private memo, "it is also necessary to believe that about a dozen people lied to the inspector general under oath . . . Heffelfinger's credibility has been reduced to shreds."

The DOE administration director did not respond to calls for comment yesterday. Bishop explained that "he's been under the gun for a long time."

Among the charges raised are that he falsely claimed he attended Kansas University and that he was "business manager" for the state. Investigators found he had no college education and actually had been a clerk at a Kansas orphanage.

He also has been accused of claiming falsely that he received a service award and that he had been a presidential assistant between 1953 and 1962.

During the Nixon-Ford administrations, Heffelfinger was at the Department of Transportation, where he was identified as the principal contact with the White House on political appointments.

Heffelfinger also denied under oath sworn statement from two executive of Gates Learjet corp., who said he threatened their firm unless it stopped objecting to his recommendation that North American Rockwell (now Rockwell International) be given a sole source contract for Coast Guard aircraft.