This is the second article of three regarding the recent problems at the U.S. Mint.During a recent conversation with representatives of the U.S. Mint, it became apparent that the bureau suffers from a lack of institutional knowledge. As a result, the U.S. Mint has not learned from its history and is making the same mistakes collectors have complained about for years.
Last month, a discussion was held with a representative of the U.S. Mint’s communications department and a manufacturing supervisor to understand better the 2021 Morgan Dollar ordering failures. When asked about lessons learned from previous sales, they admitted to working at the U.S. Mint for four years or less and could not talk about previous issues.
After asking about lessons learned from the past with responses ringing like “not on my watch,” it brought to mind the first Numismatic Forum in 2016, where the only blogger in attendance asked whether the discussions would survive changes of leadership and administrations. Rhett Jeppson was nominated to be Director of the U.S. Mint but was never confirmed. Although there were three more Numismatic Forums, it is apparent that none of the discussions survived leadership changes.
Part of the problem is with the government’s Senior Executive Service (SES) program. Members of the SES are government employees hired to senior management positions within the federal government. They undergo special training in government leadership and understand how to lead their sections through policy changes. SES employees are supposed to be non-partisan government workers. There are also limited reasons for the SES to stay with the agency to build collective knowledge.
There are three ways an SES employee can be appointed. A career appointment is a merit position staffed by a qualified executive. A noncareer appointment is a temporary appointment and is subject to several restrictions, including the number of temporary appointees the government can hire. Finally, a limited appointment is hired for an 18 month to a three-year term. Rhett Jeppson’s role that made him the acting Director was the result of a limited appointment.
SES members are also encouraged to change agencies every four years. Although there are exceptions, the SES program is designed not to allow executives to become too powerful within the agencies. Forcing them to move reduces the risk of potential abuse of power.
As SES members come and go, the U.S. Mint loses the institutional knowledge they earned over the years. Experience working with members of the SES program shows that the new appointees rarely refer to documentation left by their predecessors. Their egos also have them ignoring employees and contractors with the institutional knowledge.
The U.S. Mint has resources in the numismatic community that can help teach them about the past. Having an engaged numismatic community available to help the U.S. Mint makes the bureau unique among government agencies. If their egos prevent them from reaching out to the numismatic community, the SES members can perform a web search on any topic to read what the numismatic press wrote about any issue.
During the discussion, the U.S. Mint emphasized how they wanted to work with the numismatic community and do their best to make the products accessible. While they will talk with members of the numismatic media, the U.S. Mint will not reach out for the community’s help.
The numismatic community wants the U.S. Mint to be able to support our collecting habits. They have a unique opportunity to engage a community willing to help. If the U.S. Mint wants to demonstrate that they are, they should set up a program of numismatic advisors to help them understand what went wrong in the past and how to make it better for the future.