WASHINGTON - Timothy Ryan, who has gotten good marks for his role in cleaning up the savings and loan industry, resigned Friday as the nation's top thrift regulator.

The 47-year-old lawyer, who was appointed by President Bush in 1990, said he decided to leave because the cleanup was largely completed and for personal reasons.

Mr. Ryan, who has 2 1/2 years remaining on his five-year term as director of the Office of Thrift Supervision, said he would have resigned even if President Bush had been reelected. He said he will most likely look for work outside of government.

Three Key Vacancies

The resignation means that President-elect Clinton is facing vacancies at three of the four top bank and thrift regulatory positions. In addition to replacing Mr. Ryan, the new President will have to appoint a Comptroller of the Currency and a chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

At a press conference Friday, Mr. Ryan said the Clinton administration should consider granting forbearance to banks and thrifts with commercial real estate problems.

Mr. Ryan, whose resignation takes effect Dec. 4, said the new President should use the LDC debt crisis as a model for dealing with the commercial real estate mess. Rules should be relaxed so that banks can have more time to work out their loans, he said.

Real estate is "a long-term asset that maybe requires a long-term approach," Mr. Ryan said.

During his tenure, Mr. Ryan aggressively weeded out sick S&Ls from the industry, which improved overall earnings. And he helped restore the industry's reputation, which was tarnished by the collapse of its deposit insurance fund.

"It would be very hard to criticize his actions as a regulator in the last couple of years," said Patrick Forte, president of the Association of Financial Services Holding Companies.

Mr. Ryan, however, faults himself for contributing to the nation's credit crunch by acting like a "tough cop" when he first assumed power.

|Climate of Fear'

As a result of his regulatory crackdown, S&Ls tightened credit policies too much, and they are still doing it today, he said.

Congress made matters worse, he said, by calling bank examiners on the carpet at several hearings for their handling of several institutions that failed.

"It has created a kind of climate of fear," he said. "It has produced overly restrictive supervision."

Mr. Ryan said his biggest accomplishment was closing 730 S&Ls, but he paid a personal price.

"You put so many people out of work," he said. "In the beginning it was somewhat depersonalized and easier, but it became much more difficult. I had many phone calls from people who said, |I could have made it.'"

Persona Non Grata

His most controversial decision involved the handling of administrative charges against Neil Bush, the President's son, who was director at the failed Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan in Denver.

He said he became a persona non grata at the White House. At the same time some people thought the punishment given Mr. Bush was far less severe than he deserved.

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