The governor and Oregon legislative leaders wisely have assured Oregonians that the safety net of human services will be left in place despite recent news that the state Department of Human Services faces a $172 million budget shortfall.

Bungled budgeting should not cause further suffering for hundreds of thousands of people in need.

But fixing a mess of this proportion will be a difficult challenge for the Legislature, which by law meets in regular session only every two years and is not scheduled to convene in full until January 2007. Any sort of crisis is not easily solved in Oregon.

Before the Legislature thinks of the alternative Ñ convening a special session and scrounging for dollars Ñ it should require an independent, outside audit of the Department of Human Services, which delivers crucial services to children, families and the elderly and administers the Oregon Health Plan that serves more than 380,000 people.

The needy shouldn't have their health care disrupted because of bureaucratic errors. Neither should seniors and low-income families fear that other needed services will be reduced or interrupted. Meanwhile, all citizens deserve the assurance that their taxes are being spent wisely and productively.

A full-blown outside review is required to ensure that Oregon has the right processes, budgeting and people in place to take care of the state's most needy citizens.

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