The fledging government agency that is now one of the world's largest real estate purveyors is already a bureaucracy mired in red tape -- or so it seems to would-be buyers and real estate brokers.

The view from atop the agency, as described to the Senate Banking Committee yesterday, is only slightly different. "It's an attempt to herd a pack of squirrels," said Lamar Kelly, deputy director of the Resolution Trust Corp.

RTC officials reported they now control $164 billion in assets -- everything from shopping centers to junk bonds -- from failed thrift institutions as of July 31 and had sold $31.1 billion in assets. And the pipeline is getting increasingly clogged as the list of assets coming to the agency is growing faster than the list of assets being sold, officials said.

In the year since its creation, RTC officials told the committee, the agency has opened sales offices around the country, hired more than 5,000 employees and registered more than 30,000 contractors -- all to try to push along the vast stream of assets moving through the pipeline to market.

It has not been easy, and even RTC officials acknowledged that much of what they have done during their first year is lay the groundwork for sales in the future.

"It's like turning a supertanker around," said Kelly, describing the effort that is going into preparing for sale the nation's largest junk bond portfolio, 37,000 pieces of real estate and commercial loans that would not be attractive in the current market even if they were performing.

They are getting little help from the nation's financial institutions, agency officials said.

Banks and thrifts that have purchased depositor funds from the RTC have largely refused to take any of the failed thrift assets along with them. "They have a full plate of the very same assets themselves," said William Roelle, RTC deputy director in charge of selling off failed thrifts.

Even before the crisis in the Persian Gulf, said Kelly, "the general mood of the financial community has been one of caution. ... We sometimes have been unable to transfer even our safest assets, performing single-family homes."

Despite the size of its undertaking, RTC critics say the agency is too slow and inflexible.

A Texas Housing Agency administrator complained that the RTC "has made very little progress" in selling single-family homes to low- and moderate-income buyers, largely because it won't adequately fund an information clearinghouse in Texas, where there are 4,000 single-family homes slated for sale to low- and moderate-income buyers in the next two years.

So far nationally, the RTC has sold about 470 of such properties.

Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) told RTC officials that he has gotten more mail and calls on the RTC than on any other subject in the past six months, much of it from would-be buyers and brokers who cannot get the agency to respond to queries and offers.

One resident of Key West, Fla., who wanted to buy property there, Graham said, had trouble getting information about the property because the real estate agent handling it was based in California.

That is where the failed thrift that made the loan on the property was located.

It is a common complaint.

Kelly told Graham that the RTC has opened 14 sales centers around the country in the past two months to provide places where buyers and brokers can go to get information about properties.

Martin Rueter, an executive with Century 21 real estate, said RTC rules are burdensome and hamper the selling process. If a property needs repairs before it is put on the market, a study must be done and three bids solicited, he said. It often takes the agency 60 days to pay a bill, which means utilities can be cut and properties without locks vandalized, he added.

"Few agents really want to bother to show RTC properties," Rueter said.