New director takes helm at Bureau of Engraving and Printing

She is 24-year Army veteran and she spent several years in the congressional branch as deputy director of the Government Publishing Office. Now she’s the new director of the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing. To find out what is ahead for the bureau, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin talked with the new director, Patty Collins.

Tom Temin I don’t know where to begin because you have one of the most interesting jobs in government. But do you come to this as a policy type of person or someone judging from GPO and the Army, maybe in operations and logistics in getting things in the back door and finished out the front door type of orientation?

Patty Collins Yeah, I like to think of myself as an operational person. I joined the GPO really in the early stages of the pandemic, and I think having some of that background and contingency planning was helpful. How really GPO and then the whole of government really negotiated a very challenging and unpredictable time. So I think operations are in my history and my roots. Certainly, I need to be a little bit more savvy on policy as I enter this job in a new a new branch of government.

Tom Temin Sure. And everybody knows engraving and printing prints currency for the country, but there’s a lot of other products that come out of there.

Patty Collins That’s right. We do a lot. Our history is really in stamps. We stopped doing stamps in about 2007, but for 100 years we produced all the U.S. postal stamps. We produced military certificates. It was recently Medal of Honor Day. Medal of honor certificates are printed right here in Washington, D.C. our ink is mixed right here in house, and we’re really proud of some of those things that we do. My United States commission from 1991 was produced right here. I did not know that until I took the job, actually. So we do some other projects. We do presidential portraits, replicas of the Constitution, and some special single notes. We sell our sheets of money you can buy in our gift store, and some of them are more desirable like others. The lucky money is something that people want to buy frequently.

Tom Temin So give us a sense of the extent of the facilities, because printing the currency is one thing. And you see those presses running on B-roll constantly on cable television. But some of these things are smaller presses, one of types of documents. It sounds like a medal of honor. You don’t run off millions of those at a time.

Patty Collins We sure don’t. That’s right. We have about 2,000 employees spread between our Fort Worth, Texas Western currency facility and our facility here in Washington, DC. We run Monday through Friday, 24 hours a day, three shifts, producing the nation’s currency. We’ve been doing that since 1862. This year, we have an annual currency order from the reserve board of approximately 5.9 billion notes. So it’s pretty massive.

Tom Temin How does that number get developed? Is that something that happens outside the bureau? Do you just take the order and decide how to get it done?

Patty Collins That’s right. The Federal Reserve Board, I like to say, is our funder. We are not an appropriated agency or bureau. We are funded by the Federal Reserve Board. It is their math and their economics that determine what kind of currency in the of denomination that is required every year. And then we sit down and we have that discussion with them, and then deliver.

Tom Temin That was my next question. They tell you how many ones, fives, 10s, 20s and 50s. I guess they’re just $50 bills. What is the most common bill that is printed?

Patty Collins The 20.

That gets to the question of not the 20, but the printing of all this money and the supply chain issues which have occupied so many federal agencies. And as a matter of policy and practicality, you have kind of a unique supply chain in the paper and ink components. I imagine even the press parts are not common anymore. What’s your strategy? How does the Bureau maintain a solid supply base?

Patty Collins And you bring up a good point based on policy. If you look at U.S. code, it says that paper for passport pages, which I can harken back to my previous job and denominated currency must be made in the United States, and there could not be a foreign entity in control of that. So Crane has been our paper provider for a number of years. That’s not unusual. The majority of the other G7 nations also have single source paper supplier, so that’s not entirely out of the ordinary. We do risk assessments regularly like anyone would. And we partner with our Federal Reserve to anticipate what our demand will be and have a close relationship with our suppliers. It was challenging during the pandemic, as it was for everyone else.

Tom Temin And so the supplies are from the United States. And how far back do you track the tiers of supply? Suppose there’s a certain dye needed for a certain ink and that comes from snails from Egypt, or does that happen at all? Maybe you haven’t been there long enough to know.

Patty Collins Yeah. Our ink comes from a US based supplier. We also do regular testing of our ink to make sure that it’s meeting all our standards. Whether that’s at the vendor location or right here in house.

Tom Temin We’re speaking with Patty Collins. She’s the new director of the Treasury’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and they put engraving ahead of printing historically. And I was wondering what has changed technologically in the process of engraving, which I guess is the way you make the plates for currency. Is that still done by hand, as it has been for centuries, or is there some digital way of doing that nowadays?

Patty Collins We’re at the phase of doing a combination of both, so there is still a great deal of it that is done by hand. And then certainly we have computer assistance that just makes things happen a little bit faster. Our engravers are really experts in their field. We have less than 50. Many of them come to us with a masters of Fine Arts degree and have certainly an artistic life on the outside of BEP, but their work is just really beautiful. They have the best lighting in the bureau as well, because they draw almost all day long, and so we’re really proud of that. There’s an apprentice program to become an engraver. Some are seven years and some are ten years. So when we get someone into the Bureau as an engraver, generally they’re staying for the duration of their career.

Tom Temin And so what is it they’re drawing? Because if you’re printing a fresh batch of 20s, well, they have to look exactly like the last batch of 20s. Do you have to remake the plates from time to time?

Patty Collins That’s right. Plates don’t last forever. And then we’re also working on our new family of notes. We call that the catalyst program, where we will see our first new notes roll out in approximately 18 months to two years. It will look similar in some ways, but different in others. As you know, there are overt and covert security features built into every note. And if you ever look at a note with a jeweler’s loop as an example, you’ll see a lot of fine, detailed artwork. And that adds to our security features, is that they are so unique and so challenging to reproduce.

Tom Temin Sure. I actually do look at them with jewelers in the pocket because it’s an object of interest. But getting back to the technology and the engraving process, how is that changing, do you think?

Patty Collins Well, certainly there is more computer assistance to that. We make our plates right in-house and we’re looking at ways to do that in a cleaner fashion, using less chemicals, less water to make things faster and then repeatable. And certainly we are in the process of buying new equipment, which is still an intaglio press or an offset press, but they just have more automation to them, which will help find flaws faster, track the speed of the operation. And today our plates are either 32 or 50 note sheets, and we will migrate toward purely 50 note sheets, as you can imagine, can help us do our jobs faster.

Tom Temin Sure. And so the engravers will always be needed. You don’t envision a digital process of someone drawing on a Adobe drawing program, and then you feed it into a machine and out comes a plate.

Patty Collins That’s right. We’ll always need engravers. We will always need plate makers. We will always need printers. Absolutely.

Tom Temin And I was curious, having traveled a little bit overseas. Other nations have currencies of different sizes and shapes, and that comes up from time to time. Who would be the decider whether the five has a different size and shape than the one, and so on?

Patty Collins Well, the Secretary of the Treasury has authority on design, and I guess, size and shape or color, if you will, for all notes. Certainly she has a staff that works on designs, and I will say we are in partnership with the U.S. Secret Service for our counterfeit deterrence program, the Department of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve Board, because we think of just a currency note and we think, well, why can’t we put it in other sizes? And then you think about ATM machines, how would that money come out? Or you go to a bank and maybe just the slots in their tray are of a certain size for the, for U.S. currency. So we’re certainly not saying that can’t happen. But there are a lot of things to consider. Then just what size note do we want to print?

Tom Temin Yeah, there’s an infrastructure that’s almost infinite, that is built up in the centuries surrounding the U.S. currency size.

Patty Collins That’s right. We’re putting a dollar in a soda machine or a vending machine also.

Tom Temin Are there other practices in the production of currency, though, that are shared internationally among countries that can trust one another?

Patty Collins Yes, we do have, there is an international organization that meets from time to time to share best practices. Like other countries. We don’t give up our security features or exactly how we’re doing things to make them. U.S. notes. As a reminder, the U.S. note is the most trusted and secure currency in the entire world. So as Americans, we probably think, well, not many people use cash anymore, the average American makes six cash transactions a month, which isn’t very many. But across the world, if you said you’ve traveled frequently overseas, you will find U.S. dollars accepted in almost every country.

Tom Temin Yes, sometimes with great delight. As a matter of fact, this is better than their own currency. So what are your priorities now that you have taken over the Bureau?

Patty Collins Well, other than finding my way to the office, there are three big priorities. My first is our workforce. 25% of our workforce. Incredibly talented people are retirement eligible, and they absolutely deserve that. We have benefited a little bit from the decline in the print industry, that we are able to find those workers with print experience, offset press experience. And immediately put them to work, or put them through a training program to work on our offset process or some of our more challenging pieces of equipment. As I mentioned, we have a new family of notes coming out, so certainly there’s a lot of focus on the security features of those notes and the timelines and the testing to put those in the American public. And finally, we’re in the early stages of a replacement facility in D.C. our facility stood opened its doors in 1914. And so many floors, we’re right next to the Holocaust Museum. It’s a historic landmark, but it is not necessarily designed for a modern manufacturing facility. Our Fort Worth facility is very modern, we’re a little bit long in the tooth here in DC. So we’re in the early stages of a new facility.

Tom Temin And that’s going to Beltsville, Maryland, maybe construction starting next year.

Patty Collins The location has already been determined. It is going to be in Maryland, and we already are funded for that. So it’s a few years away, but we’re a little bit ahead of the FBI.

Tom Temin And we should just go back to the pressman for one moment and make a note of them, because people don’t understand how much skill it takes to operate a printing press in the presses the size of yours. What do they say about them? They’re as precise as a Swiss watch, but as powerful as a locomotive.

Patty Collins That’s a great analogy. We have an incredibly talented workforce. We are in a Bureau of 19 bargaining unit. So, we are union workers. We are proud of our workers and what they do every day. It is a craft because we look at the cost of training for any employee. This is a wonderful opportunity for kids graduating high school that don’t want to go to college or can’t afford a college. Training into the craft program is a good quality of life, and it’s a great living and we’re really proud of that. And we’re really proud of those workers, and we’re leveraging them to help us recruit the next generation of workforce.

Tom Temin And I just have one personal request, which I don’t do with many guests in having interviewed 10,000 people here, but you need to get together with the mint and agree that you’ll go back to the $2 bill if they’ll go back to the silver dollar.

Patty Collins Well, we do have a $2 bill. It is alive and well. If you go to your bank and ask for $2 bills, you can get $2 bills.


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