Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) yesterday called for an investigation of a three-year-old government memo that suggests banking regulators may have humiliated and intimidated debtors who owe money to failed banks.

The memo, dated July 1984, was written by a field official of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the federal agency that insures deposits at banks and manages loans and other assets when banks fail. It is titled, "How Account Officers Should Deal With Hard-Core Debtors to Obtain Maximum Collections."

An FDIC spokesman yesterday verified that the memo had been written by a low-level FDIC staffer but said, "The memo does not represent policy today or the {FDIC} board's policy when it was written."

"The first thing loan workout officers try to do is work with the debtor to arrange a repayment schedule," the FDIC spokesman said. "It's not in our interest to alienate the individual because our ultimate aim is to recover money for the {FDIC} and for creditors of the bank that has failed."

The memo instructs FDIC account officers to "when possible avoid answering debtor's questions" and otherwise keep debtors "off balance" and "afraid" during interviews.

Bumpers sent a letter yesterday to Senate Banking Committee Chairman William Proxmire (D-Wis.) asking for an inquiry to determine if the memo represents FDIC policy. A spokesman for Proxmire said that the banking committee would look into the matter.

Bumpers called the memo "one of the most outrageous and shameless government documents" ever to come to his attention. Bumpers received the memo from a constituent who said the procedure described in it "is exactly how citizens in our area have been treated by this government agency," Bumpers said.

Bank failures have been on the rise since the early 1980s, especially in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and other states hard-hit by sagging energy and agriculture prices. As bank failures have risen, so have the number of complaints on how the government handles the failures.

"This memo is downright insulting," Bumpers said in a prepared statement. "Government is meant to be compassionate.