Despite many obstacles, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is looking to improve culture for its diverse workforce.
By Rahul Bali
Federal News Radio
The Treasury Department’s Bureau of Engraving and Printing is both a blue collar manufacturing company and a white collar high-tech organization.
Currency designers, who are working to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters, have to work with press men, who print 6-to-8 billion currency notes a year at plants in Washington and Fort Worth, Texas.
“We don’t fit well into the overall federal workplace structure,” said Bureau of Engraving and Printing Director Len Olijar.
Olijar said his agency deals with 15 unions and 19 bargaining units. They receive funding through a revolving fund, instead of appropriations from Congress. The dollar bills produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing are then sold to the Federal Reserve.
In the early 2000s, the federal world did not look at BEP as a great place to work.
Olijar said the Treasury Department called BEP a “bottom feeder,” based on federal employee surveys.
For many years, Olijar said agency leadership accepted that position because BEP was so different because of its manufacturing mission.
Then in 2006, new leadership began a new “Best Place to Work” effort.
Olijar said the employee initiatives did not go well.
“Just when we thought it couldn’t worse, we actually did get worse because we did what we thought the employees wanted done,” he said.
The rankings based on federal employee surveys went 179th out of 220 to 219th out of 227 federal organizations.
Olijar said then an internal champion entered the picture and did employee focus groups.
Those focus groups brought back 200 suggestions to improve the workplace culture at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.
Olijar suggested that open-ended questions be used in employee surveys, including the use of comment boxes.
“Mining those comment boxes is the most valuable point because it really gets to the heart of what people feel in your organization,” he said.
The top suggestions involved organization leadership and supervision.
It led to a reset on how new supervisors were trained, specifically with ‘people skills’ such as communication and employee engagement.
Olijar said improving the supervisor-employee relationship is important to an agency.
“Survey after survey tells you the number one connection people have to an organization is through their supervisor,” he said. “So you need a supervisor who is talking to them, who is making them feel valued.”
Moving forward to 2012, Bureau of Engraving and Printing pushed ahead with a quality initiative involving the dollar bills they printed.
“If you go back to 1928 to 1996, you’ll see that the currency that we designed and printed was basically unchanged,” he said.
In 1996, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing began adding counterfeit security measures to printed money. Olijar said that coincided with the rise of scanners and color printers in the hands of average of people.
The rethinking of the currency design process was a “huge culture change for us,” Olijar said.
Olijar said the “demand for currency remains very strong……despite Apple Pay, BitCoin, credit cards and debit cards.”
But with all of those competing ways to pay for things, Olijar said, “We need to be aware of those competitive pressures and make sure we are keeping our currency secure.”
That has led the agency to be more agile in the design process and more consistent in the product manufacturing process.
So what is next? One of the biggest challenges to face the agency.
“The Secretary of the Treasury has announced that we are going to be adding a woman to the nation’s currency,” he said.
Olijar said that is a big deal because this goes beyond a redesign of a bill or adding a security feature.
“This is the first time we are going to be adding someone new to the nation’s currency,” Olijar said. “So it is going to be a challenge for our designers. You want to have a note that tells a story.”
Olijar said it has been more than 100 years since a currency bill has been completely overhauled with a new portrait.
The challenge for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is that, for the first time, the public can give its input on the design of the new bill that will feature a woman.
The Secretary of the Treasury will make the final call on which woman will appear on America’s currency.
“I don’t envy him, in that having to make that selection. It is a very tough choice,” Olijar said.