The public can't be blamed if it alternately laughs and cries at the latest petty spat in Washington.

If that reaction sounds schizophrenic, it's nothing compared to the governmental split personality that Washington has developed.It seems that the government has become so outraged at its own behavior that it's fining itself. But it stubbornly refuses to pay.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department reached an agreement to clean up the Energy Department's uranium processing plant at Fernald, Ohio. The plant had released contaminants into the surrounding area over the years.

EPA decided the department is dragging its feet. So, Scripps Howard News Service reports, it levied fines of $20,000 a week. The Energy Department, saying it has no appropriation to pay the fines, has put the money into an escrow account until the schizophrenia is cured.

This silly situation raises the possibility of one part of the government taking another part to court. It's tempting just to laugh off this foolish flap until one realizes that when one federal agency fines or sues another, it's not the bureaucrats but the taxpayers who ultimately pay.