David E. Rivers, a key adviser to Mayor Marion Barry who has been on paid administrative leave since he was identified in May as a subject of the federal investigation of District contracts, has been assigned to work for a nonprofit education association, Barry's office said yesterday.

Rivers will be on temporary loan to the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, a Washington-based association of 116 historically black colleges. Lurma Rackley, Barry's deputy director of communications, said Rivers would continue to receive his District salary of $68,500 a year.

Rackley said the assignment was being made under the District's Intergovernmental Personnel Agreement, which allows city officials to work for nonprofit organizations and educational institutions.

Rivers was unavailable for comment yesterday, but his lawyer, John Mercer, said Rivers was "happy, very happy" to be going back to work.

"The only problem is that he won't be able to go fishing as much," quipped Mercer, who said Rivers had felt "tremendous strain" from the federal investigation.

Mercer described the assignment as open-ended, and he declined to speculate what District job, if any, Rivers might take in the future.

"I don't think he's thought that far ahead," Mercer said.

Although Rivers has been on leave for almost three months, he has maintained an office on the fifth floor of the District Building, Mercer said. While Rivers will work as a financial adviser to the education association, he will still be available as an unofficial adviser to Barry, with whom Rivers has maintained close ties, Mercer said.

"They don't have any problem," Mercer said. "These things happen when you're in the fishbowl of public life. He's available as an adviser to the mayor right now."

Rivers was identified as a subject of the federal investigation on May 22, when federal agents served him with a subpoena at his District office and searched his home. Agents confiscated two pairs of leather boots, valued at about $800, that had been secretly marked with an FBI agent's identifying number.

According to sources familiar with the investigation, the boots were gifts to Rivers from contractors in return for Rivers' assistance in obtaining contracts.

Additionally, sources said, agents seized a white powdery substance, which was suspected to be cocaine.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that a D.C. contractor had told acquaintances that when he asked Barry for help in obtaining work in May, Barry referred him to Rivers. Sources said Rivers then told officials of the Department of Human Services, an agency he formerly directed, to help the contractor in obtaining work.

Yesterday, Rivers' lawyer said the report was "just another example" of the publicity that has been "traumatic" to Rivers.

"That's total foolishness; it's total nonsense," Mercer said of the report. "It seems like another name is thrown out there every other day, and it's another name we have to bat out of the stadium every day."