Treasury cancels plans to hire cartoonist to cheer up employees

WASHINGTON — The Treasury Department is scrapping plans to hire a cartoonist to lighten the mood of its employees who manage the nation's $1.2 trillion debt, after a senator questioned its merits.

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.

"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, the solicitation stated.

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

The office of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., contacted the bureau after the solicitation was posted on 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," Dorgan said in a statement released Friday.

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