A Senate vote on the nomination of Maj. Gen. William F. Burns as director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) has unexpectedly been delayed at the request of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), congressional sources said yesterday.

Burns, a senior State Department official, was approved unanimously last Wednesday by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on which Helms serves as the senior Republican. But Helms decided to request that the full Senate vote be delayed until ACDA explains what the senator described as a recent incident of "document-shredding" and also completes work on three arms control reports.

Congressional aides said documents were shredded last Thursday in the office of ACDA General Counsel Thomas Graham, whom they said was being investigated by Federal Bureau of Investigation and the General Accounting Office (GAO) for his handling of an apparent security violation at the agency last year.

The aides said Helms' concern was heightened by ACDA acting Director David Emery and director of security Bruce Tully distributing an agency-wide memo the next day barring any further "shredding or destruction of classified material" until it had been independently reviewed.

Graham did not return a phone call to his office yesterday, but ACDA spokesman Sigmund Cohen described these reports as "distorted" and said the destruction of documents by Graham's office was routine.

Cohen confirmed that Emery barred any further "housecleaning" of ACDA classified material, but said that GAO investigators who spoke with Graham's office on Thursday declined an opportunity to review the documents in question.

Cohen also said that none of the documents related to the alleged ACDA security violation, which involved ACDA employee Kathleen Strang. She was suspended after being accused in 1986 court documents of mishandling classified documents, allegedly about Pakistan's effort to build a nuclear bomb, but later was reinstated after an internal investigation.

Two of the ACDA reports demanded by Helms cover U.S. and Soviet compliance with past arms control agreements and the ability of the United States to verify the new treaty eliminating intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

The officials said Helms also demanded a report on a U.S.-Soviet conference to review compliance with the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

Officials said the delay in Burns' confirmation is awkward because Emery retires from the agency next week. They said the acting directorship would be temporarily filled by Fred Eimer, an assistant director who has a reputation as a hard-liner on arms control verification.