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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Not sure what to give Uncle Sam this Christmas? How about a nice, fat check to help whittle away at the $7.6 trillion national debt?

James Bowers, dressed as Uncle Sam, asks people if they can "spare a trillion", as they walk past him in the rain outside the front of Federal Hall, near the New York Stock Exchange, October 28, 2009. REUTERS/Chip East

The U.S. Treasury Department accepts gifts, payable to the Bureau of the Public Debt. Just mail them to the attention of Department G, Post Office Box 2188, Parkersburg, West Virginia, 26106-2188. Make a note in the memo section that it is a gift to reduce the debt held by the public.

Yes, really.

It's all on the Treasury's website, at the end of the list of frequently asked questions. here

Which raises a few more questions. Do people really send in checks? How much and what reasons do they give for voluntarily paying more than just their taxes? And why are the checks directed to a post office box in West Virginia?

According to Treasury spokesman Kim Treat, people do send checks. In the last fiscal year they added up to a little over $3 million, which was the highest total since at least 1996.

Some include notes. Common reasons for donating include a sense of patriotism and immigrants expressing their thanks to the United States for giving them an opportunity, he said.

The growing debt burden has become a more pressing political issue this year as the White House strains to pull the economy out of a deep recession and bring the jobless rate down from its current 26-year high of 10.2 percent.

The federal budget hole grew even deeper in October, according to monthly figures released on Thursday.


As for why the checks go to West Virginia, the town of Parkersburg happens to be where the majority of public debt employees work.

It is a small city where “crime is low, happiness is high,” the Treasury boasts on its careers website (although it shows no public debt jobs currently open to the general public).

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said having the public debt office there meant a couple thousand good-paying jobs, helping to insulate the city from the heavy manufacturing job losses suffered in nearby Ohio and surrounding areas.

He credits Senator Robert Byrd, who was elected to an unprecedented ninth term in 2006, with bringing the debt office to Parkersburg more than 30 years ago.

Workers there are responsible for a number of tasks beyond just managing the large and growing national debt, including tracking savings bonds and doing some accounting work for other government agencies such as the U.S. Mint.

Because of that, people in town don’t necessarily associate the public debt office with the debt burden itself, which has become an increasing source of angst, particularly among conservatives who are worried about rising government spending and how the debt will be repaid.

Newell said the “Tea Party” group, which has sponsored protests around the country against government spending, has held a few rallies in a downtown park between two of the city’s public debt office buildings.

“They’ll gather and have a little rally about the economy and the (bank) bailouts and, more recently, health care,” he said in a telephone interview. “They never relate it to the Bureau of Public Debt here locally. Frankly, it employs a lot of people and they realize that and they appreciate it.”

Editing by Kenneth Barry