Paper Money

Larry R. Felix retires from Bureau of Engraving and Printing

In January 2006, Larry R. Felix was just getting used to being the newly appointed director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Not that he was a newcomer to the BEP — he had been working there in various roles since 1992, but as he said at the time, as director the buck now stopped at his desk.

Now as he approaches his official retirement date of Jan. 31, 2015, he agrees the old adage is still true: Time flies when you’re having fun!

Felix is retiring after 23 years with the U.S. Treasury Department. He was appointed the 25th director of the BEP on Jan. 11, 2006, following the retirement in 2005 of Director Thomas Ferguson. Felix became the first black American to serve as director.

“It is amazing how fast time flies,” Felix said. He’s clearly proud of all that BEP employees have accomplished at both the Washington, D.C., headquarters facility and the Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas.

When he first took office, one of his short-term goal was to get the redesigned $100 Federal Reserve note into production and then into circulation. That goal was accomplished in October 2013 after many delays, some mechanical and some more unexpected.

But in between 2006 and 2013, another redesign project became necessary rather unexpectedly.

Counterfeiters were bleaching off the ink on genuine $5 FRNs, then using the paper to print fake $100 FRNs. The forgers could do this because of the similarities between the placement of the security features on the $5 and $100 notes. Something needed to be done.

The government decision to redesign the $5 denomination reversed a long-standing position by the Treasury Department that it would not redesign the $5, $2 and $1 denominations.

Because the $5 FRN is used in vending and other self-service machines, BEP officials worked closely with manufacturers of bill validating machines so adjustments could be made and the machines would still accept the redesigned note.  

The redesigned $5 Federal Reserve notes entered circulation in March 2008.

“One of the benefits we have redesigning denomination by denomination is that we can see what’s happening out there [in the marketplace] and respond,” Felix said in 2008. The BEP was able to design and print the redesigned $5 FRNs quickly so as to minimize any damage the fake $5 Federal Reserve notes could have done.

A longer-term goal was the training of BEP employees to implement new indirect inking intaglio presses, giving the BEP the ability to print a 50-subject sheet of currency, compared to the 32-subject sheet produced for decades. The new presses required changes at every level of the BEP production operation, from the note inspection to the cutting and numbering systems and the packaging.

Felix said he was proud that the transition was accomplished in 2014. He said the conversion to larger 50-subject sheets will “save the government millions of dollars” because of the ability to manage processes and inspection of notes with the introduction of new machines.

Learning curve

The changes in production processes and equipment now allow employees to make decisions about problems more quickly because technology allows press operators to know when a sheet is going out of standard tolerances.

“We get reports about color imbalance or sheets that are drifting [out of tolerance],” Felix said, and printers can make decisions immediately to correct the problems before they continue.

“The notes we put out will now be much more consistent [within printing guidelines] and thus more readily accepted at point of sales,” he said.

The newly adopted technologies in the manufacturing of paper money have required the BEP to document each step in the printing process.


Felix said the concept of stakeholders has broadened through the years. He said traditional stakeholders used to be the Federal Reserve, the Secret Service, and financial institutions. Over the years manufacturers of vending machines, coin-operated devices and machinery used at self-checkouts in supermarkets and department stores have joined the ranks of shareholders.

Felix said he’s also learned to know when to leave. He said he hasn’t decided what his retirement will involve, but he said he will not miss his normal work schedule — awaken at 4 a.m., then be in the office by 6 a.m. (so he can chat with employees on third shift), and then leaving for home by 5 or 5:30 p.m.

He said he will miss BEP employees and others he’s worked with around the world, but he is “very confident” about leaving now, knowing what has been implemented so far.

Current BEP Deputy Director Leonard Olijar will serve as acting director when Felix retires.

It will be up to Treasury secretary Jacob “Jack” Lew to appoint a new director for the BEP.

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