Washington area residents are being charged the highest prices in the nation -- $2 a box -- for those addictive Do-Si-Dos, Tagalongs, Samoas and other exotic-named cookies now being peddled by gaggles of green-clad neighborhood Girl Scouts.

The new price for the same popular cookies is a half-dollar more than the going rate around the country and will provide the Girl Scouts Council of the Nations Capital with a profit of $1.25 for every box sold. Local scout leaders said they went for the extra profits only out of necessity.

"We've put off a price increase for three years, but we just can't do it any longer," explained Mary Ellen Downes, who has been coordinating cookie sales here since 1966. "We need the money. Not all councils face as many expenses as we do, so they can charge less but we need the extra profit."

Selling cookies is big business for the Girl Scouts. Last year, Girl Scouts sold 106 million boxes of cookies, 1.6 million of which were consumed by Washington area residents. That translates to more than 50 million cookies or about 16 cookies per congressman, lobbyist, salesman, street cleaner, waitress, schoolchild and bum in this area.

This year, the council plans to sell nearly 1.7 million boxes of cookies. The profit will pay about 56 percent of the council's budget with the rest of its income coming from donations and the United Way.

Each council sets its own cookie prices and the biggest reason for the price increase here, Downes said, is the need for $185,814 to improve various camps throughout the capital area which includes five counties in Maryland, four in Virginia, Alexandria, Falls Church and the District. The cost of administering programs for the area's 2,000 troops and 43,000 Girl Scouts also has increased because of inflation, Downes said. "We're a big council with many costs."

Downes does not believe the 50 cents per box increase will hurt sales although she says the council has received calls from customers whose friends in Baltimore and Annapolis are only paying $1.50 for identical boxes of cookies. Some commuters from other Girl Scout districts have been taking advantage of the price difference to get their daughters more orders, Downes said, but the council expected some undercutting in sales.

While the cost of concocting a chewy wafer, mint or peanut butter morsel has increased, the Girl Scouts have a reputation for being tough cookies to deal with, according to executives at Louisville's Little Brownie Bakers, a subsidiary of Beatrice Foods Corp., which supplies this area's cookies. Little Brownie had to compete with two other approved Girl Scout cookie makers in May for this year's contract. It was allowed to raise its price per box from 58 cents to 65 cents. Local troops will get 33 cents for each box sold this year, compared to 25 cents last year. But the biggest profit increase will go to the council which got 65 cents last year and will net 92 cents this year. The remaining dime goes for publicity, taxes, and some legal fees.

"Yes," Downes repeats, "legal fees." It seems, a box or two of thin mints -- the Girl Scouts' best seller -- can prove to be a bit too tempting for some cookie addicts who eat first and promise to pay later. CAPTION: Picture, The Girl Scout Council for the Washington area has set the price of Girl Scout cookies at $2 a box, a half dollar more than the going rate around the country. By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post