The Federal Trade Commission may run out of money and have to close down March 15 because of what amounts to a congressional game of chicken over the agency's authorization bill.

Funding for the controversial agency runs out on that day, and the House Appropriations subcommittee that controls the FTC's purse has warned that it won't approve any more interim funding until House-Senate conferees agree on an authorization bill.

One possible alternative is a request for temporary funding from the House Commerce Committee, but it would have to spell out exactly what the money could be spent for, Rep. Neal Smith (D-Iowa) told reporters after a subcommittee hearing on the FTC's 1981 budget request.

This goes to the heart of the congressional dispute over the FTC. Both the House and Senate have approved authorization bills that would sharply curtail the FTC's regulatory powers, but they differ significantly and a conference has not yet been scheduled. Moreover, the House is insisting on a one-house veot of FTC rules, and President Carter has indicated he would veto a bill containing such a provision.

"The issue is being forced," Smith said. However, FTC Chairman Michael Pertschuk told the Appropriations subcommittee that even a brief shutdown of the commission would cost it some of its most talented people.