Reps. David R. Obey (D-Wis.) and Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.) are trying to teach the Office of Management and Budget that there is a lot of truth in the old adage about letting sleeping dogs lie.

Last week, at Obey's insistence and with Edwards' support, the House Appropriations Committee struck a relatively obscure provision from the foreign-aid bill for fiscal 1988. The provision, which has been part of the law for more than 10 years, prohibited the administration from transferring funds among various foreign-aid accounts unless it had received prior, written approval from the House and Senate Appropriations committees.

Obey never liked that part of the law, nor did Edwards. If asked, they would argue that appropriations authority lies solely with Congress and that any administration should stick to the amounts appropriated for each account. But they went along with the transfer provision, Obey said, to give the administration "some flexibility" in running the foreign-aid program while protecting Congress' right to block transfers by withholding its approval.

That's the way the system quietly worked until OMB decided to raise the issue on its own last week. As a result, the Reagan administration is at least temporarily threatened with the loss of any authority to transfer funds among foreign-aid accounts.

In a letter to House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.), OMB Director James C. Miller III raised numerous objections to the $13.2 billion House foreign-aid bill. Near the end of his long list of complaints about the legislation, Miller objected to continuation of the provision requiring prior, written congressional approval for fund transfers.

This requirement, Miller said, "violates constitutional principles" set out by the Supreme Court in the Chada case, which overturned the "one-house veto" power of Congress.

Copies of the letter were sent to Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, and Edwards, the subcommittee's ranking Republican. It didn't take Obey long to react.

He said he did not dispute Miller's interpretation of the constitutional issue, but he did not appreciate the budget director "waving the Chada decision in my face." He also decided that the quickest way to fix the constitutional problem was to strike the language about prior written approval by the two Appropriations committees.

In that case, the law would say funds could not be transferred from one account to another. There would be no exceptions, written or not.

"To me, that {OMB letter} means we don't have an accommodation any more, so the hell with it, spend the money like we appropriated it," Obey said. "It's just dumb on their part."

Edwards, who shares several of the administration's objections to other sections of the bill, backed his Democratic colleague on the funds-transfer dispute and expressed dismay at OMB's role in raising the issue. He said he had not even thought about the longstanding transfer provision until OMB announced "here's a flag, don't shoot it."

Edwin L. Dale Jr., OMB's chief spokesman, said the House Appropriations Committee's retaliation appeared "rather petty" since similar constitutional objections to requirements of congressional approval of executive branch actions have been included "in dozens of letters to Congress" in recent years.

Moreover, Dale said, "as Mr. Obey is well aware, if Congress dropped this language, the executive branch would in fact consult closely with the Appropriations committees before making any transfers of funds between accounts."

But Edwards said the flap over funds transfers, petty or not, was symptomatic of a deeper problem that has long plagued the Reagan administration's budget office.

"OMB has not had a history of being very thoughtful or for consulting people," he said. "They have a tendency to fly off onto a tangent."

The transfer provision of the foreign-aid law, Edwards said, was an example of "the spirit of cooperation between the executive and legislative branches, which the administration is not very good at. That's just not their strong point."

OMB Director James C. Miller III: In a letter, Miller objected to a provision requiring prior, written congressional approval for foreign-aid fund transfers. The provision, he said, "violates constitutional principles."

Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.): Miller's letter "means we don't have an accommodation any more . . . . It's just dumb on their part."

Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla): "OMB has not had a history of being very thoughtful or for consulting people. They have a tendency to fly off onto a tangent."