Those of us here in the Washington, DC area who work with or for the Federal Government knows that this week is the home stretch to the end of the fiscal year. Many of us who work for the government are not directly involved with the political infighting that makes the national news. Federal employees are prohibited to be involved with politics by law and contractors usually have employer policies that limit their political activities.
One thing we worry about is the funding issues that have not been resolved. Although the news reported that congress has passed a continuing resolution to fund the government for six months, what the reports did not say is that the continuing funding are only at the levels negotiated last year which rolled back funding to Fiscal Year 2007 (FY07) levels. FY07 dollars do not have the same buying power as today’s dollars and the amount of work required by the laws passed by congress have increased.
You might have heard about the budget “sequestration.” Sequestration is the mechanism that was instituted as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 to force congress to negotiate a budget or automatic, across the board cuts totaling $1.2 trillion will go into effect on January 1, 2013. Sequestration has made a lot of people in the DC area nervous because it will cause contractors to cut jobs. In fact, with the uncertainty of sequestration, large contractors, like Lockheed-Martin, are providing 90 day layoff notices they are required to give employees when defense and other security-related contracts are ended early.
For the money manufacturing operations under the Department of the Treasury, there should not be any problems from sequestration because the U.S. Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are profitable agencies that uses their profits for operations. If there are shortfalls in providing funding for operations, the Secretary of the Treasury is allowed to withdraw funds from the Public Enterprise Funds (the accounts where the profits are deposited).
Problems remain for both agencies. The most significant of the issues are the problems with printing the new $100 Federal Reserve Notes. BEP continues to report that the new notes have folding issues that have delayed their release for two years. Inquiries by numismatic industry news outlets have reported that the problems are still under investigation and that no new release date has been set.
The U.S. Mint recently reported striking problems with the First Spouse Gold Coins. Apparently, the design caused metal flow problems in trial strikes that caused delays in releasing the coins. While the U.S. Mint has said they rectified the problems, the coins have not been issued.
In addition to the coining problems, the U.S. Mint also suspended its attempt to update its technology infrastructure. After receiving the responses from a formal Request For Information (RFI), the U.S. Mint pulled back on its attempt to update its infrastructure and online ordering services to re-examine the requirements and the business processes that would be part of that contract. The U.S. Mint press office said that they had no further information other than what has been published. They did confirm that the RFI responses will not be released because they contain proprietary information that is protected from public release.
It is difficult to know whether the federal budget situation will effect the U.S. Mint and BEP or whether the attempt to reduce costs in order to ensure they do not access more money from their respective Public Enterprise Funds. This is because money in excess of budgeted operations plus a reserve must be withdrawn from these Public Enterprise Funds and deposited in to the general treasury accounts at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury (31 U.S.C. § 5136 for the U.S. Mint and 31 U.S.C. § 5142 for the BEP). It is reasonable to question the management of these funds in the light of the federal budget situation.
Right now, the way the BEP and the Federal Reserve has handled the situation with the new $100 note suggests there is more to that issue than meets the eye. Nether the BEP or the Fed are answering question and the BEP did not issue an annual report for 2011 which would have to report on the production of the $100 notes. Inquiries to the BEP were returned with a reply that the report “is not ready.”
The annual reports for both these bureaus will make for interesting reading, if the BEP produces one for 2012.