A background investigation has found evidence of "ethics problems" involving President Bush's choice to head the Office of Government Ethics and he now is out of the running for the post, senior officials said yesterday. Paul Pressler of Houston, a national leader of the fundamentalist movement within the Southern Baptist Convention and a Texas civil court judge, was the administration's candidate to head the office. His name was sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in July for the routine background check on candidates in advance of formal nomination. Officials would not detail the FBI findings except to say they did not involve allegations of crimes or financial improprieties. A senior official said, "Information was uncovered that we felt was disqualifying." Pressler could not be reached for comment, and White House officials offered conflicting accounts of whether or not he has withdrawn from consideration. The office that Bush had pledged during his campaign would be enhanced and expanded during his tenure remains under interim management. Part of the Office of Personnel Management, it reviews all personal financial filings of federal officials and interprets laws and regulations relating to conflicts of interest. Even before the FBI report, Pressler was a somewhat controversial candidate because of the key role he played in the fundamentalist movement that has challenged the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention over the past decade and gradually ousted the moderate leaders of the nation's largest Protestant body. In speeches across the country, Pressler accused Baptist institutions and leaders of heresy, and he was referred to as the "chief political architect of the fundamentalist campaign" within the church. He gained some notoriety when he was accused of secretly taping telephone conversations in furtherance of the campaign in the church. One administration official insisted that Pressler was "going south" before the FBI background probe was concluded because administration officials had determined that the bitterness engendered by Pressler's role in his church would buy Bush more animosity than the goodwill he would gain in naming an evangelical to a top job. Pressler was one of a number of evangelicals promoted for jobs in the administration by Doug Wead, who worked in the evangelical community lining up support for Bush during the campaign and is now a special assistant to the president in the White House. Officials said Pressler also had the backing of Texas Republican officials and of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). Wead, who said he was unaware of Pressler's withdrawal, described him as a "man of the highest integrity." He said because evangelicals had been an important core of Bush's support, the administration has been actively trying to place supporters in top jobs. Wead said Pressler was "an early and strong supporter" of Bush and had been among groups that met with him in the transition and afterwards. Pressler was elected to the bench in Texas as a Democrat, but in a highly publicized ceremony at the Statehouse, switched to the Republican Party in 1988. A White House official said there is currently no leading candidate for the ethics post, despite Bush's highlighting of that role during the campaign. In a July 1988 campaign speech, he pledged to appoint a "senior counselor to the president" in the White House who will enforce ethics rules. In addition, Bush said he would "enhance the powers and prestige" of the Office of Government Ethics. An official said that Pressler's withdrawal is "a sign our system is working, not the opposite. We are looking for the right person for the job, and he was not the right person." Staff writer Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.