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White House counsel Abner Mikva says the country too often overlooks government's successes and focuses on its failures.

"We ought to be suspicious of government and skeptical, but not cynical," Mikva said Wednesday in a lecture at Georgetown University that drew on his 40-year career as a public official in all three branches of government.A former federal appeals court judge and an ex-congressman, Mikva deplored what he says is a loss of public confidence in government's ability to solve the nation's problems.

"Government . . . works well in an unaccountable number of cases" from Social Security to regulatory protection that keeps consumer products safe, he said.

As for needed changes, Mikva strongly favored campaign finance reform, saying, "I was embarrassed" in 1972 at the high cost of one of his campaigns for Congress - $500,000. In today's world, an unopposed candidate spends as much, he added.

Saying he's seen his share of excess, Mikva recalled his days as a young man in Chicago when there was a publicly financed mosquito abatement district that stopped at 42nd Street. The mosquitos frequently strayed outside the 42nd Street boundary, he noted.

"I believe in a zero-based federal government" in which each program stands or falls based on whether it fills a crucial need, said Mikva.