By all accounts, resigning CIA Director R. James Woolsey is a man of integrity, ability and quiet determination. But his departure Dec. 31 after less than two years on the job generally is being met with a sigh of relief and an absence of vocal defenders.

Woolsey had been under fire for his inept handling of the shameful case in which Aldrich Ames sold CIA secrets to the Soviets for nine years - costing the lives of 10 or more agents inside the former USSR.Much of the internal CIA bungling and ineptitude that allowed Ames to keep operating took place long before Woolsey became CIA chief in February 1993. But Woolsey's failure to take tough action in response to the spy agency's failures brought him heavy criticism in recent months.

A CIA inspector general released a report in September identifying 23 present and former employees as being lax or failing to perform adequately in the Ames case. Yet Wool-sey merely sent letters of reprimand to 11. No current CIA employee was fired, demoted, lost pay or was forced to change jobs.

Given the extent and seriousness of the worst security breach in CIA history, Woolsey's response was far too mild. It angered many in Congress, where the CIA director already had made some enemies with his uncompromising fight to defend the agency's $30 billion budget against would-be cost cutters.

President Clinton accepted Woolsey's resignation this week "with regret." But even within the administration, the CIA director lacked enthusiastic support.

Woolsey came to the job as a lawyer and former arms control negotiator. His was the tough job of trying to reorganize the CIA in a post Cold War world, to redefine its role and cope with shrinking budgets. Most experts gave him relatively good marks for his efforts, but his mishandling of the Ames case did not help the CIA and was fatal to his own position.

No successor to Woolsey has been seriously considered, although several names have been mentioned in recent months, including former Republican Sen. Warren Rudman, who is vice chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; John M. Deutch, a Defense Department deputy secretary, and outgoing Rep. Dave McCurdy, D-Okla., former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Under more scrutiny and public criticism than perhaps any time in its history, the CIA could become the focus of a tug of war between Clinton and the new Republican-controlled Congress.

The administration apparently wants to reshape the intelligence apparatus in Washington and has named a presidential commission to draw up proposals for improving both military and civilian intelligence networks, a laudable goal. But the new GOP chairmen of the incoming Congress also have their own ideas about making the CIA more accountable.

Whatever else happens in the coming months, the CIA's troubles are far from over. Whoever replaces Woolsey is going to have his hands full.