The United States Olympic Committee defended yesterday its expenditure of almost $1 million to bring off the five-day honors program with which America's Olympic athletes missing out on the 1980 Games are being saluted in Washington.

"The price is worth it because this ceremony is the only vehicle we (USOC) could come up with that can satisfactorily honor our athletes and the height and proficiency they have attained as Olympians," said F. Don Miller, USOC executive director.

The 505 members of the U.S. team are being treated to a festival of partyng, sightseeing and press conferences. It culminates Wednesday with them receiving gold-plated medals on the west steps of the Capitol and finally being dined at the White House.

Rumors are that several athletes plan to demonstrate at the Wednesday noon Capitol presentation, which will be open to the public, and/or the White House dinner-reception that evening at which the athletes are to be greeted by President Carter and the first lady.

About 92 percent of the U.S. team members accepted the USOC invitations and many were due to check in yesterday at an Arlington hotel in time for a dinner and a bus tour.

The USOC is running a $9 million deficit and has been criticized for spending any large amount to bring the athletes here. That amount was disclosed yesterday to be $950,000.

"To ignore our athletes -- $1 million or not would have been dreadful," Miller said. "The monies are infinitesimal to their sacrifice."

Miller and USOC president Robert J. Kane said the president's decision to boycott the Moscow Games because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was right and patriotic.

"But, said Miller, "I am extremely sad that our athletes were not given the opportunity to compete in the Summer Games.

"I take great exception to those who would call our athletes selfish, unpatriotic or un-American for wanting to participate in something they've worked as lifetime for."

As for the possibility of demonstrations, "I am not clairvoyant," Kane said. "I don't know what 500 athletes will do. I haven't detected any sort of militancy or the like. I hope it doesn't happen, though, because it would detract from the honor -- not the most fitting tribute -- but yet a tribute."

Orginally, it was feared that a significant portion of the athletes would not attend the honors program because of anger over the boycott. But apparently the major absentees will be the swimmers, committed to a national meet in California, and team members who did not accept the USOC invitation because they are competing in various European festivals.

"It never crossed my mind not to come to Washington for the ceremonies," said Al Wood, University of North Carolina and Olympic basketball player. "I'm all for it and have a positive attitude about it.

"What they're doing here is nice though it doesn't compensate for the recognition many of our athletes will never have. But I've pretty much accepted the situation as it is."

Wood said he originally supported the boycott but is beginning to change his mind after talking to other athletes bitter about missing the Games.

Wood said the timing of the boycott reminds him that he could be in Moscow now.

"People keep talking about it and it hurts somewhat. Things like this and all the TV and newspaper coverage are simply pouring salt in the wounds of the athletes. It makes you start thinking about being in Moscow. When we made our decision to boycott I thought we were washing our hands of the whole affair.

"I don't care to hear that Russia beat Italy in basketball."

Actually, Italy upset the Soviet Union yesterday.