WASHINGTON—Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that a maintenance crew would begin work this week cleaning the nation's filter in order to remove the estimated 40 million tons of gunk, crud, and muck currently clogging up the country.

According to Salazar, workers opened the service panel Friday to inspect the nation's 2,500- mile-long filter unit and found it covered in a dense layer of dust, mold spores, soap scum, human waste, thousands of Canada geese, pine trees, poplar trees, and automobiles, as well as an 8-million-ton clump of hair.

The crew also reportedly discovered more than $50 billion in loose change in the filter's housing.

"It is imperative that from here on out we maintain a clean national filter at all times, otherwise the whole country gets backed up," Salazar said at a press conference, rolling up his sleeves to pick away some of the 15-mile-thick stratum of filth. "Look at all this crap that's jammed in here. No wonder the nation's been running so slow."

"See, the problem is, we put off cleaning it for so long that now all the gaskets are shot," Salazar added. "The American people will be lucky if we don't have to replace the turbines or even the entire condenser."

Salazar estimated that it would take 35,000 workers approximately six months to scrape off the 40 million tons of putrid gunk caked on the surface of the nation's filter, and at least 90 billion gallons of boiling water to flush out all the grime inside the purification screen.

Interior Department sources also confirmed the "change filter" light had been blinking for the past 12 years but the casing had become so saturated with grease and dust that federal officials failed to notice the warning.

"It's a dirty job, but after we clear out all the soda cups, Band-Aids, and two-by-fours from the T-valve outside of Boston, I'd say we should be able to get the country functioning back up around 75 percent," Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said. "Sometimes it sticks, so you just need to scrub around the rim a little."

Hayes said completing the overdue maintenance on the nation's filter would immediately increase the country's performance and reduce viscosity, greatly enhancing flow and circulation. The properly functioning filtration system will also reportedly help drain standing water and slow down the nationwide buildup of mildew on the sides and edges.

Despite the department's planned improvements, critics have said the move has come too late.

"I've been saying over and over that elected officials need to clean that filter," said Houston resident Loman Barger, 62. "You can't just clean it one time and forget about it, because once you get it washed out, a year later it's all gunked up again. God knows we don't ask those folks in Washington for much. The least they could do is check the damn filter every couple of months."

"What are they gonna tell us next," he added, "that they forgot to change the fuses in the Midwest?"

Department officials said they had searched online for replacement filters, but acknowledged the original packaging had been thrown away, making it difficult to track down the model number. Sources confirmed preparations were being made to order the part from a manufacturer overseas.

At press time, the Department of Interior had issued another warning advising citizens to stay inside their homes for the next six weeks, as they would be fumigating the nation.