Many people lose things when they move, but the Carter administration outdid most of them. In the journey from Plains, Ga., to Washington, it lost a whole truck full of files.

The story, pieced together from a dozen reluctant sources, goes like this:

Sometime Jan. 19, the day before the Inauguration, a 12-foot U-Haul truck driven by a press office aide rolled into Washington and stopped near Carter transition headquarters in the HEW North Building at 4th Street and Independence Avenue SW.

The driver, Mark Cohen, turned the keys over to his riding companion who was to hand them to transition officials.

But the companion left them with a "a guard at the gate at one of the nearby buildings, which would have been fine if he'd told anybody, but he didn't," deputy press secretary Rex Granum said.

Transition staff members did not know where the truck was parked or the truck's license number because that was on the keys.

Meanwhile, a D.C. policeman noticed that the truck, although parked legally, was in a staging area for the inaugural parade. He did not write a ticket but ordered it towed to another legal parking space somewhere on I Street near the Capitol.

The truck sat there until Sunday when another policeman ticketed it and ordered it towed to a U-Haul lot in Landover. Granum said the Carter staff could not report the truck lost or stolen without knowing the license number. The keys were not found until Monday, he said.

When the truck keys were found, the staff called police who had a record of the first tow, to I Street, but nothing on the second tow, to Landover. Staff members and a policeman went to I Street but found no truck.

A call was made to U-Haul, which after further calling, located the truck in Landover. When staff members went to get it Monday, they found the lock missing and files broken into and scattered in the wrong boxes.

Granum said the staff assumes someone broke into the truck during its four days on I Street. The boxes of files, which belonged mostly to the press and scheduling offices, were searched individually for booby traps or explosives, then taken to the Indian Treaty Room on the fourth floor of the Executive Office Building.

Yesterday, press office personnel still were carrying the files into the White House for sorting. Aides said they do not think anything is missing and that the files contained mostly office supplies, replaceable copies of Carter position papers and press clippings.

"I've got plenty of comments," press aide Randy Lewis said. "But I'm sure it's nothing The President would print."