The Justice Department has begun an investigation of contracting procedures at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and is presenting evidence to a grand jury, according to sources familiar with the probe.

The sources said the inquiry is focusing on whether private consultants charged FEMA for improper items.

The Justice Department has issued subpoenas for records from Triton Corp. of Washington and IMR Corp. of Arlington, two consulting firms that have done extensive work for FEMA, according to the sources.

"Some materials have gone over from our inspector general to the Justice Department," said FEMA spokesman Russell Clanahan. "This is a Justice Department matter."

A Justice spokesman said the department would have no comment.

The department's entry into the case follows continuing investigations of agency mismanagement by FEMA's inspector general and a House subcommittee chaired by Rep. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.).

Gore said in October that documents from FEMA's inspector general questioned whether IMR was billing FEMA properly for employes' time.

Gore said William Elsey, vice president of the IMR division that has received more than $4 million in FEMA contracts, is married to a former assistant to FEMA Director Louis O. Giuffrida.

Under the FEMA contracts, Gore said, Elsey paid himself an $8,000 bonus and rented equipment from another company that he conducts. Gore also said that IMR had never been audited by FEMA and that it owes the Internal Revenue Service about $1 million in back payroll taxes.

Elsey said yesterday that he could not comment on the matter pending further discussions with his attorney. A FEMA spokesman has said that some of IMR's contracts were awarded before Giuffrida took office and that personal relationships have no bearing on the firm's work for FEMA.

The internal documents also say that one IMR employe says she did personal work for Fred J. Villella, FEMA's former No. 3 official. Villella resigned in August after allegations were made before Gore's subcommittee that he sexually harassed his chauffeur and misspent $170,000 to turn a FEMA building into a personal residence.

Other documents that Gore made public in October show that Triton paid for Giuffrida and his wife to attend a $250-a-plate reception for Vice President Bush, then charged the expense to the government. Triton executives, Villella and his wife also were Triton's guests at a fund-raising dinner last February for the National Republican Club.

The documents show that the firm later billed FEMA $2,000 for an unspecified "conference" at the Republican Club.

A Triton spokesman said yesterday that in "our continuing cooperation with any and all investigations, we are taking steps to supply any and all documents requested."