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Ready, set – wait and wait

Imagine watching a juggler who drops his pins after just starting his act.

That’s about how I feel as an observer trying to read and digest the Mint report on possible future coin compositions sent to Congress Dec. 13.

Called the 2012 Biennial Report to the Congress on the Current State of Coin Production Costs and Analysis of Alternative Content, the long name and hundreds of pages cover a short plea: Give us more time.

What will our coins be made of in the future? Will certain denominations be eliminated? Answers to these questions are deferred.

Poking around in the report will yield a nice news story or two about possible coin metal alternatives. These will be posted on this website.

But boy did the online hoax story have it wrong about abolishing the cent and nickel in 2013. This government non-drama decision process looks set to run for years.

I get the sense that if three or four top Mint production executives would be sent to the World Money Fair in Berlin, they could settle the matter over dinner with the world’s leading mint technology people.

But that won’t happen.

Apparently spending years guarding against a bad decision takes priority over coming up with a pretty good workable decision quickly.

So my attention first thing this morning is drawn to a point made in the summary that shows how things seem to get dragged out. It regards the fluctuating nature of coin orders to the Mint from the Federal Reserve.

The Mint apparently has to keep double its productive capacity ready to handle orders that swing by 30 percent in size from an initial estimate given to the Mint just a month ahead of actual production time.

Now people are people and they need coins when they need coins, but you would think with an overall Federal Reserve System balance sheet of $3 trillion and balance sheets for each of the 12 individual Federal Reserve Banks that they could find the funds to hold somewhat larger coin inventories to enable them to smooth out the quantities ordered from the U.S. Mint.

Or alternatively, it would seem that the cost of holding extra coin inventory by the Mint itself would be cheaper than the stop-start approach to the production line presently being taken.

“Operational inefficiences can be traced to the current and frequently changing production demands placed on the weekly production rate of circulating coins” the report says in government-speak.

Why this particular issue must wait for a biennial report to Congress to be flagged for handling is a mystery to me.

But that’s just me.

Buzz blogger Dave Harper is editor of the weekly newspaper "Numismatic News."