It was supposed to happen quietly. Emanuel S. Savas, the suspended assistant secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would hand in a routine letter of resignation, and his boss, Secretary Samuel R. Pierce Jr., would accept it with a perfunctory response.

Instead, they ended up exchanging harsh statements about the gravity of the allegations against Savas. And his departure a week and a half ago was given extensive coverage around the country.

Pierce placed Savas on paid leave last January after it was reported that Savas used HUD employes to help type and proofread his book, "Privatizing the Public Sector--How to Shrink Government." HUD Inspector General Charles L. Dempsey referred these and other allegations to the Justice Department.

Justice officials declined to prosecute the case, but they sent the matter back to Pierce with a strong recommendation that Savas be disciplined for "abuse of office." A letter from Gerald McDowell, chief of Justice's Public Integrity Section, described the matter in far greater detail than previously had been reported.

According to McDowell, Savas asked his assistant, Joseph Esposito, to update the manuscript with charts, census statistics and new figures on government spending. Savas also suggested one of the HUD employes he wanted to proofread the manuscript, the letter said.

According to McDowell, two HUD secretaries typed the corrections; 12 to 15 copies of the book were made on HUD copying machines, and a chart was sent to HUD's graphic arts unit. He said that Savas asked Esposito to respond to inquiries from the publisher, handle calls from book reviewers, send copies to White House aides for endorsements, schedule speaking engagements for Savas to promote the book and mail 50 promotional letters typed by HUD secretaries.

McDowell said that Savas also asked HUD's public affairs office to rewrite excerpts of the book, so they could be sold to The New York Times Magazine. Finally, the letter said that Savas had made "contradictory statements" throughout the probe.

Still, Pierce was determined to handle the matter diplomatically. When an aide sent him a memo urging him to decide on disciplinary action before the July 4th holiday, Pierce reportedly tore it into pieces.

At a meeting with Savas and his lawyer, Charles R. Work, Pierce agreed that the routine letters would be exchanged about Savas' resignation. But sources said that Savas understood that the Justice letter, with which he strongly disagreed, would not be released for some time.

When language from the Justice letter began filtering into media accounts, sources said, Savas decided that HUD had leaked it and prepared a sharply worded resignation letter, dismissing the charges as "frivolous." His statement was given to reporters July 7, while Pierce was making a speech in Cleveland.

It was HUD officials' turn to feel betrayed. Pierce's feisty new press spokesman, Robin Raborn, reached him by phone at the Cleveland airport and read him the Savas letter.

The normally mild-mannered secretary reportedly was furious. He dictated an angry statement, saying that Savas had written a "foolish" letter, that the charges were very serious and that Savas was quitting in the face of a deadline for his firing. To drive home the point, Raborn made the Justice letter public.

Savas, apparently surprised at Pierce's reaction, responded by giving reporters a 29-page rebuttal to the Justice allegations. He said that HUD employes had done only "minimal" work on the book, that he had forgotten some of that work because he was putting in 17-hour days and that other presidential appointees had written books while in government.

Savas also charged that Justice had ignored his side of the story and that, in any event, the urban issues he was writing about are part of the department's mission. "Any work done on the book was a proper HUD activity," Savas said.

When the smoke cleared, HUD officials said that they had never seen Pierce as angry as he had been while responding to the Savas letter. "We took it down word for word," one official said. "Maybe a few expletives deleted."