Mayor Marion Barry defended the District government's record in awarding professional and consulting contracts yesterday and said that the controversy over these kinds of contracts has been "greatly blown out of proportion."

Barry did not defend a contract awarded to a longtime college friend of D.C. Public Health Commissioner Andrew D. McBride for full-time consulting work while the man continued to live and work in Minnesota, but the mayor called the situation "an isolated case."

Under that contract, reported in The Washington Post last week, the consultant, Charles E. Dickerson, was paid $38,788 for seven months of work at the same time he was employed full time by Carleton College in Northfield, Minn.

Most of the time Dickerson billed the city for 40-hour workweeks, and McBride signed off on payment vouchers for that amount of time, according to city records.

"After all, in a city government where you have over 35,000 employes and over 2,000 managers, sometimes something is going to happen," Barry said of the Dickerson contract. "We are not a perfect government, but we run a tight ship," he added.

Dickerson wrote a four-page "final consultative report" that told McBride not to work so hard and gave 21 general recommendations. In addition, he submitted a proposal for the Kuwaiti government to invest in the District and two five-page outlines of commission programs.

David Rivers, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, said the work he saw in the contract file was not worth the $38,788 Dickerson was paid. Rivers and McBride announced Friday that Dickerson will be asked to submit another final report. After an evaluation, Dickerson may be asked to return some of the money, they said.

The contract had been criticized by members of the D.C. City Council and by some members of Congress who suggested that more controls should be placed over city contracting procedures.

"Our contract law and regulations are 10 times more comprehensive than the federal government's," Barry said yesterday through a spokeswoman.

Some officials have said that their concern is not the wording of the rules but whether the rules are being followed properly.

Barry said that if providers of direct services such as doctors, psychiatrists and dentists are not counted, professional services contracts amount to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the District's $2.5 billion annual budget.

"On the other hand, even though that is a small number, everyone who gets paid should provide the city with an acceptable product," Barry said. "This [the Dickerson contract] is an isolated case."