Some federal official have resisted turning over the U.S. government gifts received from foreign governments. But a visit to the vault where such gifts are kept indicates that others would have hard to keep around.
Henry A. Kissinger was showered with gifts - including five busts of himself - while he was Secretary of State, according to government records.
"There's not a good market for these," an official of the General Services Administration remarked as he displayed the busts, in assorted materials and sizes.
They share a lack of resemblance to the former Secretary and the merciful fact that the donor (presumably also the sculptor, is, in each case, unknown.
Carl Albert, the former Speaker of the House who retired this year, turned over 26 gifts to the GSA as the left office, nine of them from South Korea.
The hardest to covet is a white shell three feet long and almost two feet wide from the Philippines. It rest on the floor of the GSA vault in the Forrestal Building and officals wonder if they will ever be able to dispose of it.
They also wonder about two suits tailored in South Korea for Rep. Herman Badillo (D.N.Y.). And about two shirts made in Mexico for former Attorney General Edward H. Levi.
Not all the unlovely objects are inexpensive. For example, there is an agate bowl with a seahorse made of lapis lazuli and rock crystal decorated with pearls and gilt, which was given by the sultan of Oman to former Vice President Rockefeller. It is valued at roughly $1,300.
Nor are all the object unlovely. The vault holds handsome jewelry, silverware, ornamental swords. And many more gifts have passed through the vault on their way to the Smithsonian or other American museums.
The single most valuable was a 7.9 carat diamond Zaire President Mobutu Sese Seko gave Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey (D-Minn.). It is now in the Smithsonian.
The least valuable are various certificate and ribbons including the Venezuelan Armed Forces Signal Corps meritorious service certificate and the bar ribbon with star of the Cambodian National Defense Medal. They are assigned a value of $1 each by the government.
The U.S. Constitution declares that "no person holding any office of profit or turst under the United States, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince or foreign state."
In 1966, the Congress acted to enforce this provision, but as the government worked out the regulations it was decided that as restrictive a provision as the writers of the Constitution envisioned might be impractical.
Officials were allowed to keep items worth less than $50 and were told they did not have to reject all other gifts outright.
"If," the regulation states, "the refusal of such a gift would be likely to cause offenses or embarrassment to the donor, or would adversely affect the foreign relations of the United States, the gift may be accepted" and turned over to the State Department chief of protocol.
In 1974, the chief of protocol began sending such items to the GSA vault and the GSA began looking for museums to which it could send the items on more or less permanent loan. Since then, about 2,170 gifts have been received at the vault.
George I. Perryman. GSA assistant commissioner in the Federal Supply Service, and Stan Duda, director of the service's utilization and donation division estimate there are about 50 gifts in the vault that they're going to have a hard time placing elsewhere.
Only once have they authorized the destruction of a gift, some leopard skins given to former Under Secretary of State Nicholas deB. Katzenbach by the president of Chad.
The skins, unfortunately, were not tanned and became rather rank. GSA was advised that the expense of tanning them would not be justified.
GSA also experimented with auctioning off eight gifts, all watches and other jewelry.
In order to get as far as possible from the diplomatic representatives of the donor countries at embassies in Washington and at the United Nations in New York the auction was held in San Francisco. It has not been decided whether there will be more auctions.
Among the easiest gifts to handle have been the cash gratuities Saudi Arabian visitors have given to the Secret Service personnel who protected them. All cash and checks are turned over to the U.S. Treasury.
The Central Intelligence Agency lives up to its close-mouthed reputation in the inventory of gifts. All presents turned in by CIA officials are reported to have come from a "foreign government." The actual donor is never named.
Thus, for example, former CIA Director George Bush received a set of Iranian coins from an unnamed foreign government, the inventory shows.
A number of the rugs from the Middle East and other items have been retained by the State Department as furnishings or are in use at the Vice President's residence, according to the iventory.
A hydrofoil given to former President Nixon by the Soviet Union and valued at $35,000 is being used in the bayous by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
But what will become of the sculpture - given to Kissinger - that the inventory describes as made from the underwing pod of a jet airplane mounted on a "jet fan" an inscribed with words from the Koran?
Considerably greater interest among GSA officials centers on what will happen to a small bottle of wine given to Kissinger by the deputy chairman of the German Social Democratic Pary, Hans Koschnick.
It is a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein-Rheingau, according to its label, and the GSA has been told it's worth more than $1,200.