THE Clinton administration is nothing if not ambitious. Just in the next several weeks, it plans to "reinvent government," pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (which is the one good initiative this administration has endorsed since taking office) and rework the entire health care system of the nation.
The favorite word of the Clintonites is "manage." They want "managed competition" in health care (an increasingly empty phrase), they talk of "managed trade," and they think they can help defense-related industries "manage" the transition to non-defense products.
The word "manage" reveals this administration's (and the Democratic Party's) hubris -- the belief that a few well-chosen folks in Washington, D.C., can run a six trillion-dollar economy better than 250 million Americans can.
Since the Clintonites harbor such monumental ambitions, it is reasonable to ask how well they are doing at managing just their own little corner of the world -- the White House staff.
According to the Washington Post, a congressional inquiry has found "a pattern of irregular, sloppy business practices in Clinton White House operations, including backdating of some employee pay raises and paying 25 workers out of both the transition and White House accounts during the first three weeks of the administration."
It should go without saying that if a Republican White House had committed such offenses, the wolves would be baying loudly, with calls for special prosecutors and investigating committees to be impaneled. Recall what former Attorney General Ed Meese endured for the mere "appearance of impropriety."
But since Capitol Hill is dominated by the Democrats, and the press is somewhat less sensitive to Democratic malfeasance than the Republican variety, these lapses go (for the most part) ++ unprotested.
This is not the first report critical of White House operations. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, reported earlier this year that the White House had failed to follow proper procurement procedures when it bought a new computer system. The president's new surgeon general, Joycelyn Elders, was also found, during her confirmation hearings, to have been double dipping -- taking her Arkansas salary and being paid as a consultant to the Department of the Health and Human Services. And the whole world knows that when the Clintons set about replacing the White House travel office with cronies from Arkansas, they acted in bad faith, practically suborning the FBI in the process.
When asked about the 25 instances of double dipping found by the congressional committee, White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers said it "should not be surprising or unexpected" for a new administration to run into difficulties of this kind. But the Post (no less) reports that neither it nor committee staffers could find any record of past administrations committing these kinds of offenses.
In addition to double dipping, the committee found that 230 people named to jobs between Jan. 20 and April 24 of this year were given "retroactive appointments." In other words, they were given lump-sum back payments for between one and nine pay periods before their formal appointments. The GAO questions the legality of these moves, but the Clinton Justice Department has asserted what the GAO calls "broad authority" to make retroactive pay changes.
It does take a certain chutzpah for the Clinton White House to tax U.S. citizens retroactive to Jan. 1, and at the same time to pay its people extra salaries retroactively as well. Shall we call this "Democratic greed"?
Fourteen of the highest-ranking Clinton administration officials have failed to file the financial disclosure statements that are required by law. Their excuse? They didn't know. Sorry.
It may seem unnecessarily harsh -- perhaps even nit-picking -- to point out that the Clinton White House is not as well run as the average Dunkin Donuts. But when you reflect that these are the people who, given their heads, would like to "manage" the affairs of thee and me, it is not nit-picking, it is mere self-defense.
Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.