US Coins

Mint awards firm contract to research alternative coinage

The United States Mint has awarded a contract to Concurrent Technologies Corp. to research alternative metals for U.S. coinage.

Michael White, spokesman in the U.S. Mint Office of Public Affairs, said Aug. 18 that the Mint had given the Johnstown, Pa., nonprofit research organization “notice to proceed” so it can “begin working the contract.”

According to a press release from the organization, Joseph R. Pickens, Concurrent Technologies Corp. chief scientist and technical lead for the new contract: “CTC will undertake studies to identify issues with current coinage materials and recommend potential alternative metallic materials for future coins. Our metallurgists will consider a wide range of coinage alloys and fabrication processes and propose their best recommendations to the United States Mint.”

The firm states in the press release: “In its recommendations to the United States Mint, CTC will address various factors, such as the effect of new metallic coinage materials on the current suppliers of coinage materials; the acceptability of new metallic materials; costs of metallic material, fabrication, minting, and distribution; metallic material availability and sources of raw metals; coinability; durability; effect on sorting, handling, packaging and vending machines; appearance; risks to the environment or public safety; resistance to counterfeiting; and commercial and public acceptance.”

Rising costs, new authority

Rising metals costs in recent years have driven the costs of making cents and 5-cent coins above the coins’ face values.

According to 2010 Annual Report of the Director of the Mint, Fiscal Year 2010 represented the fifth consecutive fiscal year that the production costs for the cent and 5-cent coin exceeded their face value. Five-cent coin production costs increased 2.3 cents from FY2009, increasing the cost 52.9 percent, to 9.2 cents in FY2010. The cost to produce the cent totaled 1.76 cents, up from 1.62 cents in FY2009. For the other denominations, the cost per unit of each coin has risen just under 1 percent for the dime, to 05.7 cents per coin; 13.08 percent for the quarter dollar, to 12.79 cents per coin; and 3.9 percent for the dollar, to 31.6 cents each.

In response to rising coinage productions costs, Mint officials for years had asked Congress to grant the Treasury authority to change coinage compositions without further congressional approval. The Treasury secretary has oversight responsibility for the Mint, to whom it would recommend alternative coinage compositions.

The U.S. Constitution grants Congress authority to dictate coinage specifications. Congress has been reluctant to part with that authority and over the years has granted the Treasury secretary only limited authority to determine compositions: to alter the percentages of zinc and copper in the cent, though the secretary may not change the cent’s composition to something other than those two metals.

Rather than grant the Mint the authority it sought, the Modernization, Oversight, and Continuity Act of 2010, H.R. 6162, was introduced in the House by Rep. Melvin L. Watt, D-N.C., on Sept. 22, 2010. It passed the House on Sept. 29 and passed the Senate Nov. 30. President Barack Obama signed it into law Dec. 14.

The law allows the secretary of the Treasury — through the U.S. Mint — to test new metals for coinage both within and outside the Treasury Department, and to work with independent research facilities and current and potential suppliers of metals to be used for circulating coins, among other purposes.

The law cites several factors that must be considered in conducting any research, including the potential impact of any composition changes to current coinage metal suppliers. It also gives a nod to the vending machine and commercial coin processing equipment industry, naming the ease of use and the ability to co-circulate new coinage materials without interruption in existing coin acceptance equipment as key factors.

The law also requires biennial reporting from the secretary of the Treasury to Congress on the current status of coin production costs and analysis of alternative coinage metals.

The report must consider minimizing conversion costs and, to the greatest extent possible, “may not include any recommendation for new specifications for producing a circulating coin that would require any significant change to coin-accepting and coin handling equipment to accommodate changes to all circulating coins simultaneously.”

The law also tackles fraud prevention, noting that no recommendation is to be made for a change that would allow use of a token or a coin with a lesser value produced by another country in place of a circulating U.S. coin.

Under provisions of the act, the United States Mint announced March 7 that it was seeking public comment “from all interested persons on factors to be considered in conducting research for alternative metallic coinage materials for the production of all circulating coins.”

The awarding of the contract to CTC was announced Aug. 18.

According to the CTC press release, Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC) is an independent, nonprofit, applied scientific research and development professional services organization providing innovative management and technology-based solutions to government and industry. ¦

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