D.C. government employes have improved their telephone manners and counter courtesy somewhat since January 1979, when a group of reporters visited and telephoned several city agencies.

But a recent survey of many of those same agencies found that problems persist.

B. J. Smith, for instance, said the service he got at the D.C. Office of Vital Records at 615 Pennsylvania Ave. NW was "lousy." Smith had arrrived at 10:30 a.m., filled out the necessary forms for a birth certificate for his cousin and been told it would take 45 minutes.

Two hours and 45 minutes later, still no birth certificate. Smith was told that the certificate had not been found because he had given the wrong year for his cousin's birth.

Disappointed, he decided to come back and try again. He talked to a supervisor about a refund of the $3 fee he had paid and was courteously given one.

"I have to admit this is the first government agency--and I've been around Washington all my life--where I got a pretty good response in attitudes towards helping people," Smith said. "But the time. Wow! It's ridiculous."

Steve Krizay went to the same office at 12:45 that day and walked out shortly after 1 o'clock with his birth certificate. Krizay said he was pleased with the service.

Rosemary Lally, a 24-year-old registered nurse, had come to the Department of Motor Vehicles at 301 C St. NW at 9:15 a.m. to register her car, get new plates and a new driver's permit.

The tags took an hour, she said, a residential parking permit, 20 minutes, and the license another hour. She didn't like the wait, she said, and the different windows she had to go to for each one.

"The people were very unfriendly," Lally said. "When I asked them questions, they just couldn't be bothered."

Robert O.D. Thompson, manager of the DMV office, said the kind of attitude Lally encountered was not common at the agency. "I assure you that's not the practice here," he said. "It will not be tolerated."

Thompson said the criticism of office organization was valid. He said some reorganization and change in procedures is being planned.

There were quite a few satisfied customers at the D.C. Water Revenue Division at 613 G St. NW.

George Tharrington, 49, and Crispin Kiandoli, 40, were paying water bills there in person for the first time. Tharrington was out in five minutes; Kiandoli in 10. Both men said they were treated very courteously by the clerks who served them.

Daniel Galloway, 73, of Northwest Washington, compared this trip to the Water Revenue Division with those he'd made in the past. "Today was the shortest day that I had," said Galloway, who had taken care of his business in just 15 minutes. "It's been quite a line in there all the rest of the times."

That's what can happen when these D.C. government agencies are visited in person. What if someone telephones for information?

Phones at all three agencies were usually answered promptly and courteously, though often by answering machines that gave information.

Calls also were placed to several D.C. government phone numbers during different parts of the day over the course of a week to monitor response time:

* 727-1000, the main number for city government, rang 13 times one day at 3:20 p.m. The least number of rings was two and the average was six.

* 724-7579, the citizens complaint center, was always answered on the first ring, except for an occasional busy signal.

* 727-4825, the number to call for garbage and trash service, dead animal removal and metal bulk collection, was always answered on the first ring.

* 673-6993, the number for removal of abandoned vehicles, was answered on one or two rings each time.

The D.C. Rental Accommodations Office was called one day at 2:36 p.m. to learn what the owner of three rental units must do to raise rents. The phone was answered promptly, but any time the clerk couldn't answer a question, the caller was put on hold--once for 20 minutes, another time for 25.

After the 25-minute wait, the caller hung up and called back. A machine answered: "RAO assistance is provided between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m." The time was 3:36.

"I regret that this happened," said Dorothy J. Kennison, D.C.'s rent administrator. "It must have been in the last two weeks because we have new people we've been training on the phones. What they're asking you to do is hold because they're getting instructions."