Even when the money is actually released, the goal sometimes is still elusive, as illustrated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's asbestos alert program. In 1979 OSHA awarded a contract to a San Francisco firm to set up a program to alert workers and the general public to the dangers of asbestos.

The National Cancer Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency together contributed the $759,000 to pay for the contract. The firm, Public Media Center, began putting together a slide show, a film, training sessions for managers and a brake-repair seminar that the EPA had requested specifically.

When the Reagan administration took office, the firm was about ready to start the training program. But OSHA spokesman Jim Foster said that the new OSHA team decided to review the program, as they did most pending matters. Foster said officials had problems with some of the written materials and told the company to postpone the training programs. The firm proceeded with the films and the slide show. It had completed a draft of the brake-repair seminar. Foster said he sent the draft to EPA--the last he ever heard of it.

When the contract ran out in May, 1981, the firm had received no clear direction from OSHA, and had not completed any of its projects. Foster said OSHA decided not to extend the contract, because the agency was, and still is, "re-examining the asbestos standard" and any changes would have to be incorporated in the program.

"But we haven't wasted the money," Foster said. OSHA is negotiating a lower contract payment level and has all the raw materials, such as rough footage, draft scripts and photographs shot for the slide show, he said.