AN ITEM IN YESTERDAY'S WASHINGTON IN BRIEF COLUMN INCORRECTLY IDENTIFIED THE SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, AN ARM OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES THAT WOULD GIVE ACCREDITATION TO METHADONE CLINICS UNDER A PROPOSAL.

Surplus May Aid Census

A House Appropriations subcommittee voted yesterday to use $4.5 billion of next year's projected surplus to pay for the 2000 census, highlighting the problems Republicans face as they scramble to write spending and tax legislation.

The $4.5 billion, included in a $35.8 billion measure financing the State, Justice and Commerce departments for the coming fiscal year, would declare the census expenditure an emergency, meaning it would be exempt from legally required spending limits and in effect come from next year's projected $14 billion surplus.

Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) said declaring the census an emergency was justified because of a recent Supreme Court decision requiring the Census Bureau to use both a door-to-door count and computer-assisted statistical sampling. "We couldn't anticipate what the costs would be," Rogers said.

IRS Feels Pressure of Change

The Internal Revenue Service is struggling desperately to keep up with the thousands of taxpayers who are asserting the new rights granted them under last year's IRS reform act, while the agency tries to reinvent itself at the same time, IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti told the House Ways and Means oversight subcommittee.

"A year ago, no one fully understood the consequences of such a dramatic change, especially the enormous amount of time and resources needed to implement these new taxpayer rights," Rossotti said.

For example, claims under a provision aimed at protecting innocent spouses from unfair tax collections are rolling in at more than 1,000 a week, and the agency now has a backlog of more than 29,000 unresolved cases, he said.

Rossotti said the agency needs all the resources it has asked for, including $135 million cut from its budget by the House.

Overseeing Methadone Clinics

The government proposed that methadone clinics undergo the same type of medical accreditation as other health care facilities.

Under the proposal, the Food and Drug Administration would end its 30-year program of inspecting clinics that dispense methadone, a narcotic that helps blunt the effects of heroin withdrawal. Those inspections do not focus on patients' quality of care, just on clinics' performance of certain steps.

In its place, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association would set standards for doctors, pushing them to customize patient care.

The government estimates that there are 810,000 heroin addicts, 138,000 to 170,000 of whom are treated at the nation's 900 methadone clinics.