Federal regulators said yesterday they will provide financial assistance to attract a buyer for the troubled National Bank of Washington, following more than two years of unsuccessful attempts by the bank's executives to sell the 181-year-old institution.

William S. Ogden -- who was appointed by the government to handle National Bank of Washington's (NBW) affairs after the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) seized control of the bank Wednesday night -- said he is confident that the District's oldest financial institution can be sold quickly. But he said it's unclear how much federal money it will take to attract a buyer.

"This is a proud, old institution ... which has obviously seen better days," he said. " ... But it's still an attractive franchise."

The OCC took over the bank's operations Wednesday after Washington Bancorporation, NBW's parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors.

NBW's demise comes just two weeks after the bank reported an $80 million loss in the second quarter because of problems with its real estate loans. The mammoth loss left NBW without enough capital, or cash reserves, to adequately protect the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund.

Sources close to the bank said the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. likely will have to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to any potential buyer for the bank, making NBW one of the most costly bank rescues so far in 1990. If the bank is sold, the buyer most likely will not purchase NBW's millions of dollars of troubled real estate loans. That will force the government to pump money into any potential deal.

Sources close to NBW said yesterday a number of banks already have telephoned to express interest in a federally assisted deal. Local banking consultant Edward Furash said the sudden interest in the bank is no surprise.

"The smell of a bargain is in the air," Furash said. "For someone already in the marketplace, they couldmerge it out of existence and pick up market share. For someone out of the area, they could pick up a brand name."

Furash said NBW's concentration of District-based branches would probably deter a number of potential out-of-state bidders, but he said local interest in the institution should be strong.

The government takeover went virtually unnoticed yesterday by many depositors at the bank's 18 District branches.

Bank officials handled a steady stream of customers throughout the day, many of whom said they did not intend to close their accounts.

However, the relative calm is little indication of overall depositor confidence.

Over the past three months, NBW has lost more than $450 million in deposits as customers nervous about the bank's mounting problems withdrew their funds. To cover the massive withdrawals, NBW has been borrowing heavily from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

Industry consultants said yesterday they were relieved that the OCC finally stepped in, lending stability to the situation. However, they criticized federal regulators for keeping NBW open by appointing a conservator to operate it.

In this type of takeover, the government takes full responsibility for all deposits, even those above the insured $100,000 limit.

Consultant Bert Ely said the OCC could have chosen to limit the government's -- and therefore the taxpayer's -- liability by establishing a "bridge bank" that would assume only NBW deposits up to $100,000.

"It's the classic hypocrisy of the federal deposit insurance system," said Ely, a critic of the current FDIC system.

"The government wants to limit its liability, but it doesn't want to create any more hardship for depositors than is necessary."

Critics also questioned why it took the OCC so long to act. But a spokesman for the OCC defended the agency's action, saying there was no need to intervene until it became clear that Washington Bancorp. could not raise the cash it needed to operate the bank safely.

The sale of NBW would mark the end to a long, bitter struggle for control of the institution, which culminated in the resignation of the bank's longtime chairman Luther H. Hodges Jr. in January.

Three months after Hodges left the bank, Washington Bancorp. defaulted on more than $25 million worth of commercial paper, becoming the first bank company in the nation to default on that type of short-term corporate debt.

Local real estate investor John J. Mason, who had recently purchased a 6.6 percent stake, took the helm of the cash-strapped bank late in May and vowed he would attract fresh investors. But in the last two weeks, he said he realized that his efforts had failed.

Robert Ott, the lawyer who is handling the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, said that Mason was unaware of the depth of real estate problems that had developed at the bank.

He said Mason tried desperately during the past two weeks to find a solution to all of the company's problems.

But last weekend, it became clear that bankruptcy was the only viable option.

Mason and his recently appointed bank president, Michael Ryan, both resigned as NBW officers yesterday, leaving the offices that they had redecorated only weeks before.

Creditor...............................Location........Amount

MONY (Mutual of New York)*.............New York........$20,679,484

Colson Services Corp...................New York..........9,243,788

George Hyman Construction Co...........Bethesda..........4,880,974

TJB Inc. (Mattress Discounters)........Alexandria........2,443,068

Sherman R. Smoot Corp..................Columbus..........2,133,223

Grand Lodge International Assn. of

Machinists and Aerospace Workers.......Washington........1,840,773

American Federation of State, County

and Municipal Employees................Washington........1,828,362

The Kaempfer Co........................Washington........1,422,121

Ward Corp..............................Rockville.........1,419,396

Jo Hol & Co............................Washington..........800,542

Standard Acoustics Inc.................Washington..........584,308

R.O.C.S.I.P............................Washington..........509,302

Richard B. Kabat.......................Washington..........442,849

Diane and Lawrence Manning.............London..............411,248

Route 35 Shrewsbury Ltd. Partnership...Washington..........326,669

Richard J. Barber Associates Inc.......Washington..........314,245

WPEC Marashisher World Peace Fund......Washington..........279,420

Thomas Dodd............................Washington .........278,721

Brent Scowcroft........................Bethesda............268,988

LK 1511 Ltd. Partnership...............Washington..........251,920

*Claim for a loan; all others are commercial paper

SOURCE: Bankruptcy court filing