The District of Columbia has notified Congress that it "may" spend $25 million more than Congress authorized it to spend during this fiscal year.

"Overspending a congressional appropriation is a violation of federal law that could theoretically subject Mayor Marion Barry to prosecution," wrote Washington Post staff writer Thomas W. Lippman. Barry worries, but not about prosecution. He thinks we'll be $125 million in the red for the year.

What this means is that the city no longer has the legal authority to spend money for the Department of Corrections, Fire Department, Department of Transportation, Department of Human Services and fire pensions. Yet "unless the city continues to do so, and to pay contractors and vendors, the health, safety and welfare of the community will be adversely affected."

Whose fault is it that the city is inthis financial bind? You could argue that one until the cows come home.

Yesterday's news story said most of the overspending is in welfare and Medicaid payments, which Barry has pledged "will never be suspended as long as he is mayor." So what's your preference: Do you want to cut off payments to the poor and the sick? Or do you want higher municipal taxes piled atop the federal tax load you are already carrying?

I suspect that most District Linerswould attempt to avoid making a simplistic choice of this kind and wouldtend to substitute an answer like this: "What we'd really prefer would be a city government that helps those who are truly in need and provides adequate service in other fields, such as police and fire protection, but a government that does not permit itself to be cheated by people who are unqualified to recieve benefits, or by municipal workers who decline to give the taxpayer as honest day's work. If we had that kind of government, it could perform all its necessary functions without raising taxes still higher."

If the foregoing is a reasonably accurate statement of your position, you were probably interested in the story alongside Lippman's -- the one by staff writer Tom Sherwood about the champagne that has been flowing in the D.C. Office of Human Rights.

If you missed the story, here's the background: The D.C. Human Rights Commission summoned OHR director Anita Shelton "to explain a mixed bag of crises, disasters and peculiarities in the department." OHR was described as "chronically behind" in itswork and in danger of losing $100,000 in federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission funds because of its poor record in settling discrmination cases.

Sherwood discovered that Shelton hadcalled a staff meeting, threatened to fire all 18 of her investigators unless they got the lead out of their pants, then changed her mind and decidedto offer incentives for better work.

The rewards took the form of free champagne, which Shelton says she paid for out of her own pocket, and permission to take unrecorded time off, which Shelton says she knows nothing about and has ordered her staff not to dicuss with reporters. After the incentive program went into effect, "cases closed jumped from 46 in June to 62 in July."

Sherwood reported that it was the OHR's policy to give unrecorded time off whenever a member of the staff closed four cases. One person told him, "You turn them in on Monday and you're off the rest of the week -- with champagne."

Well, a practical man might say, "What difference does it make how much time off she's giving these people?If she can get more work accomplished with a liberal leave policy, why no giveit to them?"

But an even more practical man might reply, "If they can close more cases in half the time than they used to close when they worked full time, that'sproof they were goofing off unconscionably before Shelton found an incentive system that motivated them."

And a practical man who is also an incurable cynic (like me) might ask, "Has anybody reviewed the closed cases to ascertain the quality of the work that went into them? Were the cases adjudicated properly, or just arbitrary "closed" to pile up better score? How can your trust people who can settle cases so quickly when there's something in it for them, but previously had said they couldn't cope with the workload because they were understaffed?"

I'll concede that motivation and reward are widely used management tools these days. However, my father, and his father, worked under an old-fashioned system that motivated the bejabbers out of them and produced better results than the District of Columbia gets out of its employes.

When Pappy and Grandpappy worked hard all day, they were permitted to come back to work again the next day.That was their motivation for being diligent. It never occurred to them that somebody owed them a bonus for doing what they were being paid to do.