Theater tickets, receptions for Congress and the press and postage stamps for Christmas cards have been purchased by the State Department using a confidential fund set up to cover emergencies in the diplomatic corps and consular service.

The General Accounting Office said in a report issued a year ago but never released publicly that in fiscal 1981, the department spent $137,780 from the fund for such purposes, which represented 6 percent of the $2.3 million spent from the fund that year.

The GAO concluded that the expenditures for travel, gifts and entertainment made during both Democratic and Republican administrations do not "reasonably fall within the meaning of unforeseen emergencies" as spelled out in the law establishing the fund.

Citing a pending court appeal by The Washington Post on a Freedom of Information Act request for a list of the expenditures, a department spokesman declined to comment.

In papers filed with the court, the State Department said that the money is spent on emergency evacuations, loans to destitute citizens abroad, visits by heads of foreign governments, travel by the secretary of state, gifts made by the president, vice president and secretary of state, and expenses incurred in connection with "official representational functions."

The GAO found that the department spent $25,138 from the fund for a reception attended by 900 guests on Foreign Service Day, $2,526 for a reception for then-Secretary of State Edmund S. Muskie's staff, $733 for two receptions for the State Department press corps, $3,807 for a reception for journalists and radio commentators, $6,741 for a reception for young political leaders, $319 for a breakfast for members of the House Appropriations Committee, $3,780 for special travel allowances for the inspector general's staff, $14,647 for general entertainment for congressional and staff delegations while traveling overseas, $27 used toward a luncheon for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and $54 for flowers for an unidentified former senator and his wife.

At the American Embassy in London, the GAO questioned a $45 expenditure for stamps for Christmas cards and $153 for theater tickets for the secretary of state, the ambassador and their guests.

At the American Embassy in Paris, the GAO cited the use of $3,068 to pay for housing "U.S. VIPs" at the ambassador's residence.

In addition, the GAO found that $18,500 had been spent on a reception on the top floor of the State Department building by the Fine Arts Committee, which solicits donations of American antique furniture for display in the diplomatic reception rooms.

Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of a Government Operations subcommittee on legislation and national security, asked the GAO to audit the fund in 1981. Up until the previous year, the GAO had not been permitted to audit the account.

The GAO itself is prohibited from disclosing the contents of the report except to congressional committees with jurisdiction over the department. Although not classified for purposes of national defense, the emergency fund is known as an "unvouchered" account, meaning expenditures can be made only on the authority of the secretary of state and thus are considered confidential because of their sensitive nature.