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The Clinton plaque is returning, for now, to the Ronald Reagan Building

 WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16, 1999 First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton stands next to just-unveiled plaque honoring her contributions to world-wide development.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 16, 1999 First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton stands next to just-unveiled plaque honoring her contributions to world-wide development. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
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By Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 10:36 PM

Twelve years ago, the U.S. Agency for International Development turned its lobby in the Ronald Reagan Building into a shrine to then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Its centerpiece was an 800-pound bronze plaque, 6 feet wide by about 9 feet high, bolted to a marble wall.

The plaque, which cost $27,388, plus tens of thousands more for shipping and installation, had an engraved excerpt from a speech she gave about "expanding the circle of human dignity."

Then there was this fulsome bit from the USAID administrator at the time, J. Brian Atwood: "May all who pass through these portals recognize the invaluable contribution to worldwide development made by the First Lady of the United States, Hillary Rodham Clinton."

When the George W. Bush administration came in two years later, naturally, there was some redecorating. The plaque was covered with a photo collage and later ripped down, replaced with ceramic tiles listing about 60 USAID employees who died while on duty. The various changes sent the bill up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The plaque was sent to a government warehouse in Maryland, where, as we wrote at the time, it lay "peacefully . . . waiting, waiting" for the next eight years.

But after President Obama's election, the plaque stirred.

It began positively quivering on Jan. 23, 2009, when Secretary of State Clinton went to USAID and mentioned that she had been "quite honored upon leaving the White House to have a plaque put up in the lobby recognizing my work."

"And if anybody knows where that plaque is - [laughter and applause] - you know," Clinton continued with a playful smile, looking at someone just off the stage to her right, "I'd just love to see it again. [Laughter.]"

The USAID people got right to work on that, but they couldn't displace a memorial to fallen employees. So, for an estimated $30,000, the agency, in the fall of 2009, was preparing to schlep the plaque from storage to put it up on another wall in the lobby.

After our inquiry, however, Clinton said she wanted no public funds used to put the plaque back up. And what she said that January "was a joke - not an RFP," or request for proposal, a Clinton aide said.

"We took some preparatory steps," a USAID statement said, such as ripping down part of a marble wall, "but have decided not to proceed with re-hanging the plaque."

But now they've apparently raised the money (not clear from whom), because workers have been on scaffolding preparing the wall to hold the plaque.


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