WASHINGTON - Seated in the owner's sky box at a recent Washington Redskins football game, Albert V. Casey, head of the Resolution Trust Corp., found himself in conversation with Vice President Dan Quayle.

"Al," Mr. Casey recalls the Vice President saying, "you've done more to bring this country together than any single human being. You are a common hate object. Congress hates you, the White House hates you, Treasury hates you, bankers don't like you, and your employees don't like you."

So much for Mr. Casey's annual review.

The 72-year-old businessman has had a bumpy ride since taking on the highly political bail-out task one year ago. The RTC job is clearly one of the worst in Washington. To assume it, wags say, it helps to be part politician, part tycoon, and part crazy.

"I don't think anybody can do this job," said Jack Valenti, president and chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America, and a close friend of Mr. Casey. "It is like throwing a thousand eels in a pot and being asked to sort them out."

So far, the eels are winning. Indeed, after a string of high-profile successes, including roles in revitalizing American Airlines Inc., the Times Mirror Co., and the U.S. Postal Service, Mr. Casey has taken his lumps at the RTC.

For one thing, he has failed to persuade Congress to appropriate a final $43 billion for the S&L cleanup, despite 100 visits to Capitol Hill.

That has led to questions about his business judgment, because he declared victory after a few months on the job - even though the RTC didn't have the money he said it needed.

Other faults cited by critics:

* Opting for an inexpensive computer system that can barely track the $120 billion in RTC assets.

* Offering generous guarantees on mortgage-backed securities sold by the agency, and exposing the public to sizable risk if the underlying loans go bad.

* Paying big securities underwriting fees to Wall Street firms that critics contend helped create the S&L crisis in the first place.

* His decision to drop property insurance for RTC buildings in Florida shortly before Hurricane Andrew struck, which led to losses of $3 million. (Mr. Casey contends that switching to private insurance will ultimately save the RTC $30 million.)

Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, a longtime critic the governments handling of the thrift crisis, said he's disappointed by the performance of the RTC's president and chief executive.

"When Mr. Casey came to office, I thought: Great, here is a man who was chief executive of a major American company, and he'll run the RTC on a very businesslike basis," the Ohio Democrat said at a hearing this month. "But I'm sad to report it's not going that way."

For his part, Mr. Casey said he is unaffected by the sniping, and insisted that he can finish the cleanup by fall 1993 if he gets funding.

The job won't be easy, because 74% of RTC's remaining assets are known as "hard to sell," such as office buildings containing asbestos. Also, there are 71 S&Ls languishing in conservatorship, with as many as 80 more on the way next year.

Colleagues and friends say if anybody can unwind the mess, it's Mr. Casey.

"He has seen it all," said Timothy Ryan, director of the Office of Thrift Supervision. "Everyplace he has been he's been a success. I give him very high grades."

He is "good at running big, complicated organizations," said Robert Crandall, chairman and chief executive of AMR Corp., the parent of American Airlines, who worked for Mr. Casey for about 10 years. "He's got a very high energy level."

Mr. Casey, who stands over six feet tall, looks fit despite suffering four heart attacks, a stroke, and undergoing a brain operation. He's a back slapper, and puts people at ease with a bellowing laugh.

"When you first meet him, you are going to think he is some Fuller Brush salesman," said Mr. Valenti, who has known Mr. Casey since their days at Harvard. "Al has a feeling about life that is optimistic."

Powerful Friends

He gravitates toward movers and shakers. He was a close friend of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who called Mr. Casey three times the day before he died, Mr. Casey said.

He's "intimate" with Ross Perot, and recently attended the wedding of the presidential candidate's daughter.

Mr. Casey's phone logs show calls from lawyer Jay A. Pritzker, oil company executive T. Boone Pickens Jr., former Texas Gov. John B. Connally, and General Electric Corp. chairman Jack Welch. And his calendar shows trips to Camp David and at least one meeting in the Oval Office.

A Regular at Ball Games

And he goes to "every single" Redskins game with owner Jack Kent Cooke and attends Baltimore Orioles baseball games with owner Eli Jacobs.

"That's the way I go to football and baseball games, with the people who own the team," he said. "It's a much nicer way to go. You eat, and you're comfortable."

Mr. Casey said his full schedule results from a decision to keep busy after the death of his wife, Eleanor, in 1989.

"I also like dealing in millions and billions," said Mr. Casey, who receives a salary of $119,000. "I can extend myself in this world by having positions at the top of a corporation."

After succeeding his friend L. William Seidman as head of the RTC, Mr. Casey immediately set out to reorganize the agency by forming an executive committee of his top four managers and giving them authority to make decisions to speed up asset sales.

Since taking the helm, Mr. Casey has encouraged staff members to come up with new ways to sell assets. To that end, he's backed the controversial strategy of selling large portfolios of assets as well as securitizing commercial loans for sale on Wall Street.

As a result, the agency hopes to sell about $ 1 00 billion in assets this year.

Formula for Success

The realignment of top management is Mr. Casey's recipe for success. He used the same strategy at American Airlines, Times Mirror, and the Postal Service.

"I assigned to the people who reported to me every single bit of authority," Mr. Casey said.

He meets with executive committee members on Monday mornings as a group, and individually later in the week. He relies on them to keep him informed and to run the day-to-day operations. Mr. Casey's job is simply to provide vision and to "handle the Congress," he said.

"He has eliminated all of the second-guessing and hand-wringing," said Lamar C. Kelly, senior vice president of asset management and sales.

He has also given more power to the field offices so decisions are made more quickly. In the past, they couldn't approve asset sales of more than $10 million. Now they can approve transactions of up to $25 million.

John Tierney, director of the office of contracts, said RTC managers think problems through more carefully before making decisions.

"If they screw up, they won't be here that long," he said. But critics and some employees claim that Mr. Casey botched the consolidation by delegating too much, and charge that he is out of touch with his own agency.

"The problem is, he is totally isolated," groused an RTC employee, who said Mr. Casey rarely likes to see memos or be bothered by details. "He doesn't have a clue as to what goes on in Washington and, more importantly, in the field."

"The agency is like a headless horseman," said a House Banking Committee staff member.

One result of the hands-off approach was a power struggle that erupted between acting general counsel Richard J. Aboussie, and lawyers in the agency's professional liability section.

The fight spilled into the public when disgruntled lawyers testified in August before Congress, charging that productivity had fallen off dramatically and cases were being dropped against thrift officials with political connections.

In an interview Mr. Casey said, "I've had absolutely zero relationship with the White House."

Mr. Casey plans to stay on until the fall of 1994, though that could change if President Bush isn't reelected.

Next year, the funding battle will start anew, and Mr. Casey is sure to draw barbs as he continues to downsize the agency.

"No matter what I do, there is opposition," Mr. Casey said. "That doesn't bother me. I have career objectives. None. This is the last job I'll ever do.

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