Since the founding of the United States Mint in 1792, all of its 38 directors, from David Rittenhouse to Edmund Moy, have been political appointees. Every so often there has been a gap between the service of directors but eventually a director is appointed.
Since the departure of Edmund Moy in January 2011, Deputy Mint Director Richard Peterson has been acting as U.S. Mint director regardless of whether he has the title or not.
Peterson is not an presidential appointee but a member of the government’s Senior Executive Service. According to his biography posted on the U.S. Mint website, Mr. Peterson was an executive at General Electric and has a manufacturing and supply chain background. Prior to becoming the deputy director, Mr. Peterson was the Mint’s associate director for manufacturing. He is a retired U.S. Navy officer, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds an MBA from Harvard.
In other words, Richard Peterson is well qualified to be the chief executive of the largest manufacturer of coins and medals in the world. And with the exception of the American Eagle 25th Anniversary Silver Coin sets, the U.S. Mint has experienced fewer problems in the last year than in the previous years under the last politically appointed director.
With the exception of the production of the new $100 notes and their delayed release, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has also been very well run. It is an efficient organization that maximizes its seigniorage and is able to supply the Federal Reserve with the currency it needs. BEP Director Larry Felix is a member of the Senior Executive Service and is not a political appointee.
Since the U.S. Mint appears to be running better with a professional executive than it did with a political appointee, the question has to be asked whether it is better for the bureau to be run by a professional or by someone without manufacturing experience who was given a patronage job.
The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act (22 Stat. 403) of 1883 eliminated the patronage system within the federal government. For the first time in United States history, government employment was determined by merit and not because of who you know. It has resulted in a more professional workforce and one that did not have to curry political favor.
The Pendleton Act allows the president to convert patronage jobs to civil service positions by presidential order. The last time this was done was in January 2009 when outgoing President George W. Bush converted dozens of presidentially appointed positions within the Department of Homeland Security to civil service jobs.
Considering how well the U.S. Mint has been run by a professional manager and in the best interest of the bureau, it is time for President Obama to exercise his privilege under the Pendleton Act and convert the job of director of the U.S. Mint to be a civil service position.
Mr. Peterson should be allowed to continue functioning as the director of the U.S. Mint as long as it is merited.
Scott Barman of Rockville, Md., is a collector of 20th century coins and author of the Coin Collector’s Blog (coinsblog.blogspot.com). He works as an information security analyst in the Washington, D.C., area for a federally funded research and development center, primarily for the Treasury Department.