WASHINGTON, DC–Holding aloft a box of unclaimed coats, wallets, and in-line skates labeled "Cincinnati," Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt announced Monday that the federal government is no longer responsible for personal items lost or stolen within U.S. borders.

A sign at the U.S.-Mexico border reminds citizens to look after their own belongings.

"Effective immediately, the U.S. will not be held accountable for anything that happens to citizens' eyeglasses, baseball caps, Walkmans, outdoor grills, or Chevy Impalas–or any other items that are misplaced, broken, or stolen on U.S. premises," Babbitt said. "Your personal effects are your own responsibility, folks."

According to Babbitt, the warning "Please Watch Your Belongings At All Times... Thank You!" will be printed on all future Social Security cards. In addition, more than 50,000 signs reminding citizens of the government's immunity from liability will be posted at border crossings and international airports, as well as along federal highways.

"The government cannot and should not be expected to do everything for the American public," Babbitt said. "In the past, we tried to hold items found lying around the U.S. for at least 30 days. Unfortunately, it was creating all sorts of havoc. People were claiming items that weren't theirs, pleading to be let in to look for keys and purses after the government's 5 p.m. closing time, and demanding reimbursement for lost articles."

Added Babbitt: "If anyone has a complaint about our new policy, they're more than welcome to fill out a citizen comment card."

Jan Murphy, a Hastings, NE, bakery-shop owner, is among the 3.5 million Americans to file a compensation claim for personal items stolen within U.S. borders since Jan. 1.

Some of the 30 million unclaimed items still being held at the Department of Lost and Found.

"While visiting a friend in Florida in late March, my camera was swiped right out of my car," said Murphy, who plans to sue the federal government if she isn't reimbursed the camera's $195 cost. "This shows gross negligence on the part of the U.S. government, to be unaware of what's happening right on its own property. As a taxpaying customer of this country, I think I have the right to expect a certain basic level of security and precautionary measures on the part of management."

The new no-liability measure is not without precedent. In July 1998, the Department of Health and Human Services introduced a "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Social Services" policy. Last November, signs were posted in all U.S. Capitol bathrooms reading, "Elected Officials Are Required To Wash Hands Before Returning To Work."

As a result of the new policy, more than 1,500 federal lost-and-found centers will be closed and 72,000 workers laid off.

"I've had people accuse me of mishandling or losing their belongings, or even stealing them," said Gordon Townsell, a newly unemployed lost-leather-goods clerk. "Some guy can't find his gloves, and suddenly it's my fault. Hey, I'm not the one who left them on a table smack-dab in the middle of Connecticut."

According to Townsell, citizens are becoming increasingly careless with their possessions as they become ever more reliant on the federal government for services.

"You wouldn't believe some of the stuff people leave behind in this country," Babbitt said. "Along with about 400,000 umbrellas–and some of these are $40 or $50 umbrellas–we're expected to hold on to some guy's speedboat found off the coast of Miami until he finally notices it's missing? The United States government is not your mother."