The Office of Management and Budget is letting federal agencies begin putting out new publications and films. But now OMB will keep a closer eye on costs and top agency managers closer tabs on content.

Fourteen months ago, the Reagan administration imposed a moratorium on periodicals, books and audio-visual products while it reviewed what the government was already producing.

OMB says that review will result in a $20.3 million drop in the cost of government films and publications, from $237.9 million in fiscal 1981 to $217.6 million in fiscal 1982. The savings is greater, OMB noted, when inflation is reflected.

The number of publications that the government produces still remains an elusive figure. According to a preliminary count, the administration has eliminated about 2,000 of the 13,000 to 15,000 publications distributed before the moratorium. (OMB has had to delay its tally for more than six months because its computers have been tied up with the federal budget.)

While the publications project is in progress, OMB budget examiners will review agencies' publications lists and OMB analysts will use computers to identify potential duplication and projects with excessive costs.

During the moratorium, federal agencies were supposed to draw plans for high-level review panels to oversee their publications, both old and new. OMB has approved the plans of all the agencies, except the Health and Human Services Department.

OMB press aide Robin Raborn said OMB is not interested in monitoring editorial content. Those chores are supposed to fall to each agency's management group, where key officials are supposed to use what Raborn calls "a reasonable rationale for continuing a publication."

"The whole purpose of the control plan is to greatly restrict what is put out, to make them agency managers go through the exercise of seeing if it fits the mission of the agency," Raborn said.

OMB, she noted, has been mainly concerned with cutting costs by getting agencies to use cheaper paper, fewer color photographs, and so forth. "Only on a rare occasion will we try to guide content."

In a report to Congress in March, OMB praised the Pentagon for showing "considerable restraint" in its publications despite large budget increases, and cited the Education, Energy and Transportation departments and the Environmental Protection Agency for showing "significant restraint" on publications.

EPA, for instance, announced it had decided to eliminate 86 of 104 publications on topics such as pesticide safety for farm workers and keeping poisonous baits away from children. The pamphlets, an agency spokesman said, were out of date.

The Office of Personnel Management, meanwhile, cut 212 of 526 publications. One, however, was "Update for the Federal Executive," which earned more through subscriptions than it cost to produce.

Overall, the savings OMB claimed for fiscal 1982 were $14.5 million less than it had predicted originally. Raborn said OMB analysts found some agency officials had tried to inflate figures to distort their eventual savings or included costs that should have been excluded.