When it comes to federal contracting, what the government gives, the government also can take away.
Consider the film industry in the Washington area, a group of approximately 100 independent film producers and labs, most of them small businesses.
"There was a time when the federal government was the biggest user of motion picture services in D.C.," said Paul M. Lyons of Capital Film Laboratories. In the past year that market dwindled to almost nothing.
Compared to 9,856 motion pictures completed under contract for the federal government in fiscal 1978, the government contracted for only 63 films during the 10 months ending Jan. 31, 1980.At least part of the slowdown appears to be attributable to a new film procurement system designed to avoid unnecessary duplication of films.
When government contracting for films was in its heyday in "Hollywood on the Potomac," as some detractors called it, business sprang up to meet the need for contract films.
Many of the products weren't deathless. The government's taste in cinema runs to titles such as "Milestones in Missilery" and "Hazards of Tire Hydroplaning." But it was a market that developed its own contractor community, and some of those contractors were located here.
Over the years the film makers in this area have diversified, seeking trade association and industry business as well. "I would say about half the business here is government and the other half is the enormous lobbying lobby -- all the trade associations that have offices here," said Lewis S. Baer, president, writer, producer and director for Federal Film Productions Inc. of Silver Spring.
For those who diversified, the slowdown hasn't been as tough as it has been on those who remained government dependent. Local producers this year have counted themselves lucky to get a chance at producing a single federal feature.
No one can account fully for the decline in federal film contracts, but the new procurement system accounts for part of it.
Under that system, when agencies want to contract for a film they must check their needs first against films already available. Then the names of producers who may bid on the project are randomly selected by a computer that produces five names for every two producers the agency proposes.
The first computer walk through the list of 312 producers nationwide who wanted a chance at the federal films took longer than anticipated -- nearly a year. And while the computer was creeping along, proudcers were waiting.
"We happened to have a very full calendar for 1978 running into 1979," Baer said, Federal Film, which has produced motion pictures including "Your FBI" and "Protection of Offshore Energy Assets" for the government, has traditionally depended on the federal government for about 75 percent of its business, Baer said.
After the computerized selection process went into effect, Baer finished up three films for the U.S. Department for Commerce, including one shot in Europe. "That trailed on into 1979, but since that time we haven't had anything new," he said.
Federal Film's number came up once, but the project was canceled. According to the people who run the selection process, the names of bidders on projects that are canceled will go back on the list for another chance at a bid.
What prompted the new system was the cost of sifting through unlimited bids under the old system. "If you had a project that cost $10,000, and you put it out on the street and got 100 bids, the government would have to spend more than that evaluating the bids," said Wilford McCloy of the Department of Defense Directorate for Audio-Visual Activities, which runs the system.
It was also created by the Office of Management and Budget to end costly duplication of films, a problem that has become an embarrassing part of federal film-making lore over the years with such periodic revelations as accounts of six federal films on tooth brushing.
"We know of several cases where the system's already paid for itself" by discovering films that met an agency's needs, McCloy said.
That and agencies' reluctance to use a new system until they are familiar with it may have held down the number of films made this year, said David Baker, deputy assistant administrator for OMB.
Whatever the reasons, the slowdown seems likely to accelerate the changes in the local film industry.
"If you were asking me if someone should come to Washington to make a living in film," said Lyons, who is also executive director of the area's Independent Media Producers Association. "No."