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Keep Mint’s top job a political one

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News

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Should the U.S. Mint directorship be a civil service job or a political appointment? I ask the question because I was just asked whether the Treasury was thinking of converting the status of the Mint director’s job to a civil service appointment like the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. I hope not. I think it would be a mistake to make the conversion.

I know I have climbed out on a limb to write this. Politics is not exactly seen in the most positive light at the moment, but that does not dissuade me from my position.

Mint directors that are politically appointed mean two things:

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1. They did something to help the President win the Oval Office. The Mint director is beholden to the President and the President is beholden to the director. Both are attuned to politics and know how events can be interpreted politically.

That is a critical ability. Had the Mint director not be a political appointee, we probably never would have had the wildly successful state quarter program. It became a reality because Phil Diehl, a political appointee, made it happen despite the misgivings of the civil service bureaucracy. The bureaucracy wanted to play it safe, as it always does, and make no changes at all. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule trumps all else there.

However, Diehl, as a political animal, could both see what needed to be done to overcome internal inertia and to turn the issue of the state quarter program into a positive for elected officials who needed to approve it rather than a negative. It thereby gained the political support necessary to become reality.

Politicians do not like to undertake something they do not understand. If they cannot see the political upside, they will avoid the issue like the plague because to them that can only mean there is just a downside.

We as collectors can debate the question of whether we have had too many changes in the past 12 years, but I believe that whatever stumbles there have been, all the changes we have experienced are far preferable to no changes at all. No change was the default setting of the bureaucracy before the state program.

2. The second characteristic of a politically appointed Mint director is his or her understanding that public feedback is not something to be ignored. They may not always like this feedback, but they know it must be listened to, analyzed and acted upon.

When was the last time you heard of collector complaints about the BEP changing anything? Sure, it can happen, but not often – and not because the BEP is somehow a superior agency to the Mint.

Paper money collectors know the culture there is different and focus elsewhere.

Collectors may love to pick on Mint directors, but it’s because they know they will be listened to. I think being listened to is critically important in this age of big government. When we have a good idea, a politically appointed Mint director has a better chance of recognizing it as such.

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