The inspectors general watch everyone else, but who watches the watchdogs?

The answer is the IGs police themselves--and keep those investigations secret from everyone but the White House.

According to sources at the Agriculture Department, its inspector general, John V. Graziano, is being investigated by Charles L. Dempsey, the IG at the Housing and Urban Development Department.

Graziano did not return a reporter's telephone calls and HUD officials refused to comment. Joseph R. Wright Jr., deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget and chairman of a presidential council overseeing IGs, acknowledged that Graziano was under investigation, but said that was not "unusual."

Wright said he would disclose no details "because it involves the way he is managing the office . . . versus what you would call allegations of graft or fraud or anything like that."

Sources said the probe was prompted after a 20-year USDA employe in the IG's office resigned in April, accusing Graziano of "favoritism." The employe said Graziano had hired and promoted a number of his friends, including a secretary who, it was charged, was elevated from a GS7 to a GS13 because she is a girlfriend of a Graziano deputy.

Wright said the outcome of the investigation will be made public only if there "is something substantial" to the charges. "That is unlikely based on what I know," he added.

Wright said Graziano was not the first IG to be investigated, but he refused to name the officials or say how many probes have been done in the past. He also said he opposes making the complaints public.

"If there is something there, it will come out," he explained. "But if there is nothing there, all you are doing is impacting the people and their reputations." Because the IG's job "is not going to make them friends," Wright said, they are open to "all kinds of charges."

Wright said IGs agreed last year to investigate each other if accusations were made. The standard procedure, he said, is for an IG to review the charges decide whether they are worth investigating. If they are, the IG asks another IG to look into the case. Wright said whistle blowers also could file charges with the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency, which would review the complaint and select an IG to investigate. But, few cases are handled that way. "Normally, they do it themselves," he said.

The results of a probe are delivered to Wright and to the head of the agency involved. What happens next is up to the White House. Wright said he "wasn't sure" what he would do if an IG violated some law. "I suppose that I would sit down and discuss that with Ed Meese counselor to the president because that is fairly serious."

Wright said he doesn't believe IGs could abuse the system. "The only thing that makes the council have the integrity that it does is making sure that it, itself, is clean and literally above reproach," he said. "I've gotten to know these guys and they take that very, very seriously and the first time that they would have any type of break in that reputation, they know, their integrity will be gone."