The federal government filed a lawsuit against D.C. City Councilman Douglas E. Moore and his wife yesterday in an attempt to recover $21,500 he borrowed from the Small Business Administration to open an African specialty shop here.

According to the suit and to SBA officials, Moore has made "few, if any" payments on the loan since he signed the promissory note on April 7, 1971. The full amount of the note is due, plus interest of $3,187.30 and a continuing daily interest rate of $4.63, according to the suit.

SBA officials said they are forbidden by law to discuss the details of the suit, but it reportedly was filed after lengthy negotiations between the agency and Moore's attorney, attempting to settle the loan, were unsuccessful.

Moore, who is considered to be the front running candidate for City Council chairman in this year's city election, said when asked about the suit: "I don't have any comments on that. Let me talk to my lawyer."

Moore's attorney, James Hudson, said yesterday he had not yet seen the suit filed by SBA and could not comment specifically on it. However, he said, "We are going to be diligent and work out whatever settlement we can."

He played down the significane of the suit, saying it merely signalled a finding by the SBA that it was unwilling to accept earlier settlement offers by Moore.

Moore received the loan for the shop at 3622 Georgia Ave. NW to open a store to sell African fabrics, art, garments, jewelry and other items, according to the SBA application.

Moore apparently used portions of the loan to purchase the building in which the shop was housed. He then lost the building in a foreclosure auction in October, 1975, after he failed to make the mortgage payments.

The few pieces of furniture left in the building were removed by U.S. marshals in April 1976 after they executed an eviction notice at the property at the request of the building's new owners.

At the time of the eviction, SBA officials said they could not discuss the effect of the foreclosure on the SBA loan itself. They made clear, however, that attempts would be made to negotiate informally to re-establish a payment schedule.

Our SBA official said yesterday the councilman was made as a last resort to regain the money. "That's the kind of person you bend over backward for," said the official. "In any case, though, the SBA would not go court without detailed negotiations having accurred.

Moore, a 49-year-old Methodist minister whose current council salary is $28,444 yearly, has emerged as a major figure in city politics again after several unusual and well-publicized altercations.

Since taking office in January, 1975, Moore has been convicted of assault for biting a tow truck driver in the back during the scuffle in the parking lot outside the District building; found guilty and fined $200 for improperly using dealer's license tags on his car, and charged with "common law assault" by a Hyattsville woman who claimed Moore slapped her twice and threw a brick through her window. The last charge was later withdrawn. Another time, Moore was handcuffed by city security guards during an argument at a D.C. welfare office.

The SBA loan called for monthly payments of $272 over a 10-year period. It was signed by Moore as president of Pan African Enterprises, Inc.