House Banking Committee investigators examining thrift rescue agreements reached in 1988 have concluded that the buyers of those troubled savings and loans will receive $78 worth of assets and government assistance for every $1 they invested.

"Many of these resolutions went beyond 'sweetheart' deals and amounted to virtual giveaways," said committee Chairman Henry B. Gonzalez (D-Tex.), who released his staff's findings yesterday. Gonzalez said the Bush administration should renegotiate many of the 96 agreements, even though that would entail "monumental legal and financial problems."

The deals Gonzalez said he plans to target involve some of the wealthiest people in the country: Revlon Group Inc. owner Ronald O. Perelman's takeover of five failed thrifts now merged into First Gibraltar Bank; Caroline Hunt's investment in Southwest Savings, a bailout that failed despite projected government subsidies of $2 billion; and Texas billionaire Robert M. Bass's acquisition of American Savings.

Congress has been critical of the government's 1988 deals, arguing that in its haste to unload failing institutions the administration negotiated agreements that were far too generous. The bailouts were arranged by M. Danny Wall, former chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, and Stuart Root, director of the now defunct Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp.

In the waning days of the Reagan administration, the bank board, which did not have cash available to pay off the depositors of the mushrooming number of failed thrifts, agreed to pay private investors various subsidies to take the S&Ls over. "The 1988 deals -- left untouched -- will further increase the cost {of the S&L cleanup} and shift the burden to future years," said Gonzalez, who urged the administration to "level with the American public" and "make the hard decisions now."

Gonzalez, who plans to hold hearings on the 1988 takeovers next month, said he expects similar figures to come out of ongoing reviews of deals negotiated by the General Accounting Office and the Resolution Trust Corp., the agency that took over the thrift cleanup when Congress abolished the Federal Home Loan Bank Board last year.

The estimated cost of the 1988 sales, which the government last year placed at $40 billion when calculated in current dollars, has been climbing steadily. Federal officials now put the cost of tax-free interest and subsidy payments to the buyers at $66.9 billion over 10 years. The tax loss to the Treasury amounts to $8.5 billion.

Federal regulators reexamining the 1988 sales have concluded that the government could save substantial sums -- perhaps billions -- by taking advantage of options written into the agreements, or by persuading some buyers to renegotiate terms. However, doing so would require the government to essentially pay off the buyers early, thus requiring the Treasury to come up with billions of dollars right away.

"This will be extremely difficult, but it may be better for the government to buy out some of the contracts, at least the most onerous parts of the contracts, rather than letting the costs mount under long-term guarantees," said Gonzalez.

Revising the 1988 sales would present Congress with another fiscal burden at a time when it is struggling with a growing budget deficit and huge costs from the Persian Gulf crisis.

House Banking Committee staffers examining the 1988 sales found that investors received $104.4 billion in assets -- or $46 in assets for every $1 they invested. Their expected $66.9 billion in interest and subsidy payments amounts to about $30 for every dollar invested, the committee staff found. In addition, for every dollar they invested, thrift buyers will reap about $2 in tax benefits.

Gerald Ford, a banker who took over Gibraltar with Perelman, said yesterday he expects federal reviews of the deals "to cost us some money." He said he expects the government to exercise contract options that could cut its costs, but not to press for a wholesale renegotiation of the sale.

A spokesman for Bass said he would have no comment.

Hunt returned Southwest Savings to the government this past spring.