If temperatures keep going down and the price of oil, natural gas and coal keep going up, Uncle Sam may find it cheaper to burn old money to heat buildings.
Because of record and near-record cold temperatures during the past three weekends, the federal establishment's Monday fuel bill has hit $350,000 daily.
Once heating plants get rolling, however, the fuel tabs slip back to a more comfortable $200,000 to $280,000 per day to help keep U.S. buildings here -- from the White House to the Pentagon -- comfortable.
General Services Administration supplies most of the hot air -- in the form of steam -- to government offices here. It also sells heat to some D.C. government buildings and the Red Cross, as well as to U.S. buildings in Germantown and Suitland.
The federal fuel bill is actually higher because costs of heating the Central Intelligence Agency building in Langley are, as one might expect, top secret. When asked for an estimate, an official would venture only that the CIA's bill is "bigger than a breadbox."
Over the holidays, the government shut down its money printing factory -- the Bureau of Engraving and Printing -- to help hold down heating costs.
The idea of burning money, rather than oil, is not as clever as it sounds, an official said. Old $100 bills, he noted, are still worth more than a lump of coal. Besides, the government shreds most of its old currency these days and it is not eager for the kind of publicity it would get if it started burning money to stay warm.