Four of six gifts that Treasury Secretary William E. Simon received from foreign governments will become the property of the U.S. government, settling a controversy between Simon and Ambassador Shirley Temple Black, the State Department's protocol officer.
There of the four, at Simon's suggestion, will be on display at the Treasury Department.
In a letter to Black dated Dec. 23, Simon gave assurances that all gifts he had received have now been turned over for government use, or were valued below $50.
Simon originally had sought to keep the six gifts, by paying for them after an appraisal to determine their value.
But Black turned down Simon's request after a story on his proposal appeared in The Washington Post last month. She ruled that retention of the gifts would violate the law, which stipulates that gifts valued at $50 or more, made by foreign governments, are in fact gifts to the government of the United States.
After Black said she would not issue a special ruling to allow his suggestion, Simon proposed that three of the gifts - a shortgun from Russia, a wristwatch given him by Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev, and a set of matched pistols from Argentina - be displayed at Treasury. This suggestion, a Simon aide said, was acceptable to the State Department.
A fourth gift, a cigarette box from Saudi Arabia, will be turned over to the State Department for display or disposal.
The other gifts will be kept by Simon. One, a pair of necklaces from Israel, was appraised at less than $50, and the other, a porcelain sculpture from Spain, was deemed a personal gift from the Spanish finance minister rather than from the Spanish government.
Simon, who at one time had considered an effort to get a favorable ruling from the General Services Administration that would supersede Black's decision, decided not to carry the matter any futher.
Black points out that the law - passed in 1966 - is almost totally ineffectual. The burden is on the recipient of the gift to turn it in to the State Department immediately upon return to the United State.
Customs agents who interview returning Cabinet officers and members of Congress and get a list of gifts for the purpose of exempting them from duty do not pass the information on to the protocol office.
But even if the State Department had such information, it has no authority under the 1966 law to pursue the matter. Under the 1966 law, no agency is charged with enforcement, and there are no civil or criminal penalties for noncompliance.
Another element in the law needing revision, according to those familiar with it, is the $50 cutoff between a memento and a gift to the U.S. government. Because of the inflation of the last 10 years, than $50 figure is considered too low.