- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Treasury Department revealed Friday that it is scrapping plans to hire a cartoonist to lighten the mood of its employees who manage the nation’s $1 trillion-plus debt, after a key Democratic senator questioned the wisdom of the hiring.

The cartoonist would have been hired by Treasury’s Bureau of Public Debt, which accounts for borrowed federal spending, at a time Congress is embroiled in a debate about increased government spending and rising levels of red ink.

“Our training staff felt that at a time when employees are working extra hours, it might have been helpful,” said Kim Treat, a spokesman for the bureau.

But the effort was canceled because it had become “more of a distraction than an opportunity,” he said.

In a federal solicitation issued earlier this month, the bureau said it was looking for a contractor to conduct two three-hour presentations for its employees on the benefits of humor in the workplace and the connection between humor and stress relief.

The contractor would have to be able to “create cartoons on the spot” about jobs at the bureau, according to the text of the solicitation.

Mr. Treat said the solicitation was intended to collect more information, including how much it would cost, and that no money had been allocated for the effort. The bureau’s annual budget is $187 million.

The office of Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, contacted the bureau after the solicitation was posted on the Web site “The Drudge Report.”

“Of all the agencies, the Bureau of Public Debt should know that there is very little that is funny about today’s economic conditions,” Mr. Dorgan said Friday.

The Treasury Department has been at the center of much of the Obama administration’s efforts to revive the economy and bail out major sectors of the economy, including banks, Wall Street financial firms and the auto industry.

According to the agency’s Web site, the Bureau of Public Debt’s main function is to “borrow the money needed to operate the federal government and to account for the resulting debt.” The bureau borrows by selling Treasury bills, notes and bonds, as well as U.S. Savings Bonds, and pays out interest to investors.

In February, Congress raised the federal debt limit to $12.104 trillion.

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