By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
On Friday, June 14, in an article by Alan Rappeport, the New York Times presented evidence that design work on the Series 2020 Harriet Tubman $20 Federal Reserve Note had begun as early as 2016 – which runs contrary to recent statements made by Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.
At a May 22 hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Mnuchin, in response to a question from Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA7), stated that any work on a redesign of the $20 bill would not take place prior to its anti-counterfeiting update in 2028. The only bills that would see new designs before that time, Mnuchin said, would be the $10 and $50 notes, per the Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Committee’s‘s 2013 recommendations.
Nevertheless, the New York Times article reproduced an image of a preliminary design that the newspaper obtained from an anonymous source. This source, a former Treasury Department official, stated that the Tubman design had been created in 2016 under the Obama Administration and could have served as the basis of a $20 note released in time for the 2020 centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution that guaranteed the rights of women to vote in federal elections. Celebrating this anniversary with a redesigned $20 bill was the focus of the non-profit grassroots organization Women on 20s, which held the online vote that chose Harriet Tubman as the woman to feature on the new design.
Further contradicting Mnuchin’s statement, other former and current officials go as far as to say that Mnuchin’s delay of the $20 redesign and reluctance to address the administration’s stance on the note had less to do with anti-counterfeiting security features and more to do with Mnuchin’s desire to proactively help President Donald Trump avoid the potential controversy and political fallout from rejecting the design change outright.
Mnuchin denied this allegation in an interview at the G-20 summit in Japan in early June. But according to Larry E. Rolfus, Director of the BEP from 1995-97, the security features involved are embedded in the note’s imagery from the start as both are designed simultaneously.
Meanwhile, the controversy continues to elicit increasingly serious reactions from national Democrats.
On June 11, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (D) wrote an open letter (Link: PDF) to the Treasury Secretary urging Mnuchin to reconsider his decision regarding the Tubman note. Born Araminta Ross in Dorchester County, Maryland in 1820 or ’21, Tubman escaped slavery in 1849 and immediately began helping other people escape from slavery, risking her own life time and time again. In his letter to Mnuchin, Hogan emphasized how the $20 bill honoring the famed abolitionist and suffragette would coincide with the state’s “Year of the Maryland Woman” celebrations.
Other Democrats were less conciliatory.
Democrats in the House of Representatives were already seeking information about the security concerns that Mnuchin claims were the motivation for the delay when the New York Times article was published, but on June 19, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York–where Harriet Tubman lived after the Civil War until her death in 1913–requested in his own open letter that Eric M. Thorson, the former inspector general (Link: PDF) of the Treasury Department, open an investigation into the decision. Schumer’s letter cites Mnuchin’s May 22 statements, as well as Trump’s public description of the Tubman redesign as “pure political correctness” as reasons for the investigation. Rich Delmar, the Treasury Department’s acting inspector general, said in an email to the Times that he would review the request.
Delmar responded to Schumer’s letter on June 21 (Link: PDF). In his response, Delmar states that such an investigation can be incorporated into an upcoming Treasury Department audit of the BEP that had already been scheduled. The audit already on the calendar is meant to check whether security and accessibility features on our nation’s currency are being properly implemented, and Delmar said that a review of the $20 redesign process can be “specifically included”. He does, however, say that the review will take 10 months to complete and will focus on “employee misconduct”.
At the time of this article’s publication, it remains to be seen whether this will be satisfactory to the Democrats in Congress or not.
* * *