Bert Lance, the former budget director whose financial wheeling-dealing continues to be a source of embarrassment to the White House, has surrendered one of the symbols of his brief tenure as a high government official - his diplomatic passport.
Lance's passport, along with a letter from him to President Carter, arrived at the White House Monday, three days after the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Lance and 10 other persons and companies of violating securities laws.
Lance, however, continues to hold a White House staff pass, giving him access to the White House and adjacent Executive Office Building.
Staff passes and diplomatic passports normally are returned to the government when an official leaves government service. White HOuse deputy press secretary Rex Granum said last night that White House officials had asked the Secret Service last fall to allow Lance to keep his pass after he resigned as budget director last September.
White House press secretary Jody Powell said he knows of no connection between the SEC complaint and Lance's decision to surrender the passport,
Powell, obviously irriated by the questions, also said Lance remains one of the president's closet friends and nothing has changed between them because of the SEC complaint.
"I know of no change in that relationship," he said of the Carter-Lance friendship.
Bearers of diplomatic passports are afforded special treatment - for example, freedom from customs searches - not available to regular international travelers. In Lance's case, critics argued that the special passport might facilitate his contacts with Saudi investors and other international businessmen with whom he has beendealing.
But the real significance of the passport was that it symbolized the continuing ties between the president and Lance, who resigned last September after weeks of controversy over his past practices as a banker in Georgia and who last week was confronted with a formal civil charge that he violated securities laws.
Last fall, shortly after Lance resigned, the State Department routinely asked him to surrender the diplomatic passport. White House officials, at Lance's request, intervened and the former budget director was allowed to retain the passport.
The same was true of Lance's White House staff pass. Granum said last night there are no plans to ask Lance to surrender the pass.
"The White House gets to have passes for those it wishes to have passes, he said.
The SEC complaint against Lance charged that he and the others failed to report purchases of stock as required by law in connection with the acquisition of stock in Financial Bankshares, a Washington bank holding company.
The complaint said Lance became involved in an attempt to take control of Financial General in the spring of 1977, while he was still director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Powell said that in Lance's letter to Carter, the former budget director said he was returning the passport so it could not be used to criticize the administration.
"Basically, he said he didn't want people to have an opprtunity to be-labor the administration on a matter as inconsequential as this," Powell said.
Since resigning as OMB director, Lance has visited the White House less than once a month, Powell said. In each case, he added, Lance did not use his White House pass to gain entry but was cleared through by securityguards as are all nonpass holders.