Bush administration officials announced yesterday that because Congress failed to provide more money for the savings and loan cleanup, they will take advantage of a multibillion-dollar legislative drafting error to keep the effort going until a new Congress takes office next year.

The Cabinet-level board that oversees the thrift cleanup agency voted to allow the Resolution Trust Corp. to use $7 billion to $10 billion in new funds to cover the costs of closing another 83 thrifts between now and early next year and to draw on an unspecified additional amount to cover the agency's operating costs.

"This gets us moving, but the ship doesn't get up to full power until Congress acts again," said RTC spokesman Steve Katsanos.

An election-minded Congress, wary of voter anger regarding the S&L crisis, feuded for months with the administration over providing more funds for the cleanup. Even amid blame-laying and finger-pointing, both sides agreed that more money was needed, but the funding measure died when a single member of the House, Frank Annunzio (D-Ill.) used a parliamentary maneuver to block any action.

RTC officials have been saying that Congress's failure to act could add $1 billion or more to a cleanup tab that is now put at upwards of $500 billion over the course of the decade.

In the wake of yesterday's action, that $1 billion estimate was revised sharply downward.

An RTC spokesman said the funding delay resulting from Congress's inaction will likely end up costing $250 million to $300 million. The agency has deferred complex and costly action on 18 large thrifts it originally planned to close in September.

Said Peter Monroe, oversight board president: "The RTC cannot now accomplish until the end of March what it would have done by the end of September had Congress provided the necessary money."

"What it means is that when Congress comes back {in January} they are still going to have to virtually immediately move on the question of providing funding for us," said Katsanos. Otherwise, he said, "we will come to a halt in February."

The 1989 thrift cleanup legislation contained a drafting error acknowledged by both Congress and the administration that provides the RTC more money than originally intended. Treasury Secretary Nicholas F. Brady had said the RTC would not use the money without informing Congress.

In a flurry of correspondence between the Treasury Department and congressional banking committees in recent weeks, the administration has sought to get Congress's approval to use the money as part of a larger funding request.

After Congress refused to grant more funds, Treasury and RTC officials sounded alarms about the fate of the cleanup but until yesterday had been tentative about whether to take the money and use it, as all sides seem to agree they have legal authority to do.

There was speculation on Capitol Hill that the administration was leery of the political consequences of seizing such enormous amounts of taxpayer funds for S&Ls without being able to show that Congress supports the spending.