The General Accounting Office's sweeping survey of bank mutual fund activities has elicited a broad response from the banking industry, according to a top official.

The response, from nearly three-quarters of the 3,400 financial institutions contacted this year, should help the congressional watchdog agency develop an unusually detailed picture of the industry's mutual fund business.

"We're quite pleased with the response rate," said Frank J. Philippi, senior evaluator heading the GAO effort. "This will give us a statistically valid sample."

Mr. Philippi would not discuss the GAO's findings, which are expected to be given to Congress in September.

The survey, which examines the structure, management, and performance of bank mutual fund sales programs, is being eagerly awaited by bankers. Many of them believe the GAO will offer a thorough and unbiased assessment of an increasingly controversial part of their business.

"I'm very interested in seeing what trends are developing and how our bank stacks up to others," said Greg Knopf, mutual fund product manager at Union Bank, San Francisco.

Two influential Democratic members of Congress, Henry B. Gonzalez of Texas and John D. Dingell of Michigan, requested the study last spring.

The lawmakers indicated they could use the findings as a basis for legislation to rein in banks' mutual fund activities. But one banker said recently that the results may have the opposite effect.

"I don't think the report is going to rock the industry," said J. Edward Diamond, president of Dime Securities, the brokerage arm of Dime Savings Bank, New York. "This will not uncover a dirty little secret."

Several additional GAO surveys of bank mutual fund activities are also in the works.

The agency is expected within two weeks to ask a handful of bankers and industry groups to review the first draft of a study on banks' use of trust assets to launch retail mutual funds. A final version, incorporating comments, is expected by early August.

The GAO is also developing reports on mutual funds' impact on banks' bottom lines and on how mutual funds may be affecting credit and the federal deposit insurance system.

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