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

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.

There's every likelihood that President Palin, in two years or six, will take it down again.

Your tax dollars - and private dollars - at work.

Contest deadline

Today, as in Wednesday, is the deadline for entries in the Loop Who Gets It First Contest. This is to guess which federal agency or individual will get the honor of receiving the first subpoena from incoming House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.

To win, simply predict which agency or person will get the first Issa subpoena, and over what issue. As a tiebreaker, guess the date he will issue it.

Send your entry to firstsubpoena@washpost.com. As always, Hill and administration officials may submit entries on background. Those coveted In the Loop T-shirts will be awarded to the first 10 entrants with the correct answer. Please include a phone number.

Heigh ho, heigh ho . . .

So you're toiling away in Washington on the budget and taxes? Jealous that you're not in the Swiss Alps, where a few lucky government officials are staying at a beautiful Caux hotel school and conference center, overlooking Lake Geneva, in a week-long discussion gauging media efforts to make things better in war-torn countries?

Well, maybe you shouldn't be. Sure, the views are breathtaking, the nearby skiing doubtless fantastic. A couple of day trips look wonderful. But the 32 or so media experts have a jampacked day-and-night agenda assessing methods of measuring media impact in "conflict countries." You could get a headache.

The event is underwritten by a Swiss journalism organization, the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

The sponsors "priced it very carefully," BBG spokeswoman Letitia King told us, "and it turns out it was actually cheaper" for the handful of Americans attending to fly over there. Everyone is staying in student dorms, she added. Apparently there was another obstacle in obtaining U.S. visas for some of the foreign invitees. (The BBG contributed $50,000 - from a research budget of about $12 million - to help with conference costs and travel for those from conflict areas who couldn't afford to pay to get there.)

So maybe it's cheaper in the Alps than in beautiful downtown Crystal City. And the former luxury hotel, 1,000 meters up from the lake, is reported to have been the inspiration for the castle in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

. . . and so is Jack

Disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff has finished his job at now-famous Tov Pizzeria, a kosher Baltimore eatery, and is on probation, the Associated Press reports. Abramoff, the former owner of a D.C. restaurant and a dreadful kosher deli, went to prison four years ago after his conviction for fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. He was transferred June 8 to a halfway house, which got him the gig at the pizzeria.

Unclear what his plans are. Consorting with a shady crowd might violate probation, so lobbying the Hill seems unlikely.

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