If there's anything that is not needed by the government's costly and controversial effort to clean up the ailing savings and loan industry, it is more confusion and delay.

Yet that's precisely what taxpayers and savers had better start preparing for.Already mired in bureaucratic red tape, the government's $159 billion bailout of insolvent S&Ls hit another snag a few days ago when a federal judge ruled that the present director of the Office of Thrift Supervision and his predecessor had been serving unconstitutionally because they were not confirmed by the Senate.

No matter how expeditiously the courts may handle appeals of that ruling, it could easily inspire a rash of other challenges to the authority of the OTS and, consequently, more delays.

That prospect is particularly unsettling, coming just when the job of cleaning up the S&L industry is becoming considerably bigger and more complex.

New figures released this week show that the nation's ailing thrifts ran into more red ink last year, with losses increasing by more than 43 per cent to a record $19.2 billion.

Meanwhile, the collapse of CenTrust, a failed Florida savings bank, could cost taxpayers more than $2 billion - an episode that could rival Lincoln Savings and Loan as the costliest failure of the S&L crisis. While the firm was going belly up, its chairman treated himself to a lavish life that included $16 million in salary and bonuses, a $7 million corporate yacht, and a $29 million art collection owned by the firm but displayed at his home.

Though the government has taken over 281 failed thrifts, at least another 300 institutions are expected to be seized because they can't meet the stricter capital requirements of the S&L bailout law enacted last August.

Any delay in the liquidation or resale of insolvent thrifts could compound their loses and increase the tab the taxpayers must eventually pay. By one authoritative estimate, it costs taxpayers $10 million each day ailing S&Ls stay in operation.

Consequently, the U.S. Senate should act fast in confirming the nomination of the director of the Office of Thrift Supervision. Likewise, the courts should move to the top of their calendars any other challenges to the legality of the OTS.