The White House has told the International Communication Agency to ask the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities what art exhibits and cultural programs to send abroad.

Endowment panels made up of representatives from the American artistic and scholarly communities will screen the cultural activities to be presented overseas under the terms of a White House "memorandum of understanding" signed earlier this month by both endowments' chairmen and the director of the International Communication Agency.

The memorandum will be made public Wednesday at a Washington meeting of the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The endowments share a budget of $300 million; the ICA this year will spend some $260 million on its many cultural and educational activities in 120 countries. These include scholarly lectures, fellowships, film showings, and many exhibitions, among them the American can entries in international art fairs.

"Comprehensive lists of overseas opportunities for art exhibitions, performing arts events, speakers, and other types of cultural activities" are to be submitted to the two Endowments by the ICA, the memorandum stated. Working from these lists, the specialists who serve on the Endowments' panels "will make recommendations and will select and rank final choices" although "final decisions on specific exchange activities and participants will rest," as in the past, "with the director of the ICA."

"This means that the representatives of the artistic and scholarly communities who serve on the endowments' panels will determine what we send abroad," said one ICA official who asked that his name not be used. "There will be no bureaucratic content decisions on our art activities. None at all. Zero." The ICA was formed earlier this year through the merger of the State Department's Bureau of Cultural Affairs and the old United States Information Agency.

Lists of those receiving grants from the two endowments will be submitted regularly to the ICA. "Suppose, for instance, that we support an art exhibit in Chicago," said Mary Ann Tighe, who is in charge of program development at the Arts Endowment. "The ICA will be able to determine, before it is too late, if it wants to send the exhibit overseas. By marrying our programs - they tell us what they need, we tell them what we have - we should increase efficiency and save a lot of money."

Though some overlap is likely - a loan show that might have been seen in four U.S. cities might, instead, visit three and then be sent abroad - ICA expenditures will remain restricted to presentations overseas.

One casualty of the marriage is the independent International Exhibitions Committee which has been choosing what to send to the major international art fairs. Such selections, says the memorandum, are now to be made by the ICA "based on consultations" with the two endowments.

"We don't mind going out of existence as a formal organization and becoming an advisory. Endowment panel." said Thomas Messer, director of New York's Guggenheim Museum and the committee's chairman. "But there is one condition. Art judgements should be made by art professionals, museum directors, curators, artists, and so on. We would be very disappointed if this condition were not met.'

The Endowment have panels that advise on painting, sculpture, photography. Elizabethan history, etc. "Decisions will be made by existing pane's when possible or by specially constituted panels when necessary." the memorandum states. "Funding of these pancis will be discussed at a later date."

"Our knowledge of what is going on in the U.S. is limited: we have 120 branches overseas, but only one office here, in Washington," said the ICA official. "The Endowments' panels would give us vastly greater access to the fruits of our society. Remember we run a two-way street. Not only do we make presentations overseas, we also are charged with bringing their things here. If this works, everyone will benefit. The Endowments will be given an international dimension, while the program that we send overseas will be the best available."