For nearly two decades Bill Duffy has been designing for the federal government -- producing drawings of land mines, abstract symbols for federal agencies, designs for federal reports and magazines and such instantly recognizable work as U.S. savings bonds ads.

But Duffy has never worked for the federal government.

At least Duffy has never been a federal employe, delivering designs in exchange for a piece of the federal payroll. Instead , Duffy runs his own graphics design firm, producing government graphics under contract.

Duffy's business is one of thousands of area concerns that depend largely on the federal government and its extensive contact work for their livelihoods, part of a huge network of consultants and others who deliver goods and services to the company town's company.

In the case of Duffy & Associates, work for the federal government makes up about 85 percent of the business, supplemented by work for associations and industry.

"I like them all," said the owner-president of the Georgetown graphics firm. "It just happens there's more government work . . . that's the largest buyer of graphics in this area," he said.

"I like to say I've done work for just about every government agency," said Duffy. As he flipped through examples of the company's products -- magazines designed for the Department of Labor, annual reports for the National Endowment for the Humanities, special reports for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a State Department newsletter and much, much more -- the claim appeared true.

Even so, said Duffy, he expects other area graphics firms do larger dollar volume business with the federal government, although they may not be as heavily dependent on the government as a customer as his firm is.

Duffy's contacts with the federal government as a customer go back to, the late 1950s, when he worked for Creative Arts Studio, a large graphics firms that spawned a number of the area's more recent, smaller graphics firms.

"They were very heavy into government work -- charts, graphs, photos -- secret work for the Defense Department," said Duffy. "I got a pretty good education and I'm still working with some of those people I worked with in 1954. They're still in the government.

In 1964, Duffy and two associates started a firm, still dealing largely in government work. In 1971, he formed Duffy & Associates, a small business that employs four workers and grosses less than $500,000.

Most of the firm's work is arranged through negotiations rather than competitive bidding. Over the years, as federal art directors have become familiar with the company work, Duffy has been the beneficiary of arrangements such as blanket purchase orders and fixed price labor/hour contracts, under which agencies indicate at the beginning of the budget year what firm they want to use and set a celling on how much they want to spend with the firm.

"It's a vote of confidence, but it doesn't guarantee anything," said Duffy. "I don't start adding up my gross [earnings] based on those arrangements. I've had agencies go an entire year and not use any of it (the money they indicated they might spend with Duffy)."

Duffy said he generally deals directly with art directors rather than procurement people. "I'm dealing with people who are professionals," who know what they are negotiating for, he said.

At one point in 1976, design professionals both inside and outside the government, including Duffy, got together to overturn some General Services Administration regulations they believed held prices unfairly below market rates. The regulations also excluded small firms and freelancers from some work by a restrictive definition of "viable business," according to Pete Masters, GSA's director of graphic communications.

"We were both interested parties," said Masters. "Those outside were being restricted in what they sold, and those inside were being restricted in what they bought. We both got together and tackled government, and it worked for a change."

"We're competing with a lot of people in the area who won't touch government work," said Duffy. "Most people say that government work is on a different plane -- that it's very hard to do because of the restrictions," he said.

"I think it's a myth," said Duffy. "Government work to me is where it's at. You've got an honest, coordinated effort by people to improve the goverment's image.

"I'm not saying the government is not cost conscious, but it's got a good sense of values," said Duffy. "It's willing to pay a good price for a good product."