Here's one for the books: Americans owe their government $250 billion. The sources of that debt include every form of loan, grant and credit invented since the advent of the New Deal - but the government's collection agency, the Justice Department, has no system for tracking or collecting the missing money.

And that figure doesn't even count unpaid taxes.That's right. According to a study by the General Accounting Office, the watchdog agency that audits federal programs for Congress, we have produced a nation of debtors and deadbeats who owe Uncle Sam for delinquent farm loans and outstanding criminal fines, for overdue student loans and tardy HUD mortgages.

Debtors include Small Business Administration loans to failed enterprises, civil penalties assessed against contractors who overbilled the government, unpaid criminal fines levied on criminals and corporations, and assorted frauds, bankruptcies and foreclosures.

Overall, the U.S. Agriculture Department is the government's biggest creditor.

None has to live in fear of government enforcement agents.

Actually, the Justice Department has taken so much heat that they are planning to change things. Robert N. Ford, a deputy assistant attorney general, recently testified that the department plans "to create, for the first time, a single, automated, central data base of all the debts referred to us."

Maybe some day.

Unfortunately, that dream remains locked in the future, even though some effort by the government to force its citizens to make good on a mere $30 billion in delinquent debts along with $61 billion in unpaid federal income taxes could wipe out more than one-third of the gargantuan federal budget deficit.

As members of the administration and Congress engage in endless debate over various solutions to the deficit, one thing is apparent: The U.S. government bureacracy is its own worst enemy.