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HOH’s One-Minute Recess: Final Countdown, No. 6

From a Congressman refusing to pay his cab fare to a certain staffer misusing a listserv, 2010 was a good year for gossip. As the year winds down, HOH will count down our top 10 items of the year. We’ve sifted through dozens of columns and found the most salacious, titillating and hilarious gossip of the year.

Coming in at No. 6 is one of those only-in-Washington stories. The Architect of the Capitol hatched a plan to round up some coins, but it turns out that plan wound up costing a pretty penny.

“Money to Burn” From Jan. 28:

Congress often gets accused of pouring taxpayer money down the drain — but a new plan has some fearing Capitol Hill officials could waste cash (well, coin) in a whole new way.

Workers routinely collect the quarters, pennies, nickels and dimes thrown into the more than 20 fountains across the Capitol campus and bring them to the Capitol Visitor Center, where officials clean them and deposit them in a special revolving fund.

In the past year, however, some of the coins collected from the fountains have been so badly damaged that they’ve been rejected for deposit. Rather than (literally) throw that money away, one top CVC official recently proposed having them professionally cleaned.

Seems logical, right? Well, not so fast.

While there aren’t yet any official estimates on how much this new plan will cost, HOH hears rumblings that it could outweigh the coins’ worth.

Makes you think twice about throwing that penny into a fountain, doesn’t it?

According to a copy of the Jan. 26 proposal obtained by HOH, the coins would continue to be brought to the CVC, where officials would log the money and give it to a coin-cleaning vendor. The vendor would give the CVC a check representing the value of the coins and a bill for the cost of the cleaning — and some fear that bill would be bigger than the check.

Architect of the Capitol spokeswoman Eva Malecki cautioned that officials have collected coins for years and the “process is not profit-making.”

At the same time, Malecki added, she was not aware of a time “when the cost of cleaning the coins outweighed the value of them. The procedures used in the handling of the coins are part of our standard internal controls.”

Still, one taxpayer watchdog warned officials should be cautious in their cleaning efforts.

“I think that logic has to win out here,” said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense. “It does seem pretty ridiculous that they would go through all that [effort] and cost just to put some pennies into circulation,”

But Ellis did admit “throwing coins into fountains isn’t my forte.”

“I’m too much of a penny-pincher,” he joked.

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