Treasury Watchdog to Probe Delay of Harriet Tubman $20 Bill

An internal government watchdog will probe the U.S. Department of Treasury's decision to delay a redesign of the $20 bill that would feature an image of abolitionist Harriet Tubman instead of President Andrew Jackson, according to a letter sent Monday by the department's office of inspector general to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Inspector General Rich Delmar said that as his office prepares to conduct an "audit engagement" of Treasury's practices, it will expand its scope to incorporate a review of the $20 bill's redesign delay.

The move by Delmar to review the matter came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin delayed Obama-era plans to include Tubman, an African-American woman and abolitionist folk hero known as the "Conductor of The Underground Railroad," until 2028 when President Donald Trump would be out of office due to "counterfeiting issues." Mnuchin also suggested the redesign may not include Tubman, prompting a request last week by Schumer, a New York Democrat, that Delmar's office investigate whether the White House played a role in the decision.

Trump has praised President Andrew Jackson—a slave owner whose presidency bears responsibility for the infamous Trail of Tears— and reportedly has a picture of him in the Oval Office. Nearly 5,000 Cherokee men, women and children died during the Trail of Tears relocation from Georgia to Oklahoma. Trump told NBC News in April that the decision to remove Jackson was "pure political correctness."

Tubman had planned to be featured on the front while Jackson's image would have remained on the back.

Treasury Watchdog Probe Harriet Tubman $20 bill
circa 1900: On the far left, abolitionist leader, Harriet Tubman (c1820 - 1913) ex- slave and founder of the 'Underground Railroad' which provided safe houses for escaping slaves. Photo by MPI/Getty

"We will interview the stakeholders involved in the new note design process," Delmar wrote to Schumer. Those stakeholders will include senior Treasury executives, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the U.S. Secret Service and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve and its Currency Technology Office.

"If, in the course of our audit work, we discover indications of employee misconduct or other matters that warrant a referral to our Office of Investigations, we will do so expeditiously," Delmar added.

Schumer touted news of the review, saying the lack of inclusion of women and people of color on paper money was "long overdue."

"There are no women, there are no people of color on our paper currency today, even though they make up a significant majority of our population, and the previous administration's plan to put New Yorker Harriet Tubman, on the $20 note was a long overdue way to recognize that disparity, and rectify it," Schumer said in a statement. "The motivation for the Trump administration's decision to delay the release of the new note has not been credibly explained, and the inspector general's review must get to the bottom of this."

Treasury Watchdog to Investigate $20 bill Delay
Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin testifies during a House Committee on Financial Services hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 22. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty

Schumer sent a letter to Delmar last week, requesting that the IG office investigate to "ensure that political considerations have not been allowed to infect the process for designing American currency."

The reason for the long delay was due to security concerns, Mnuchin told Congress last month.

"The primary reason we've looked at redesigning the currency is for counterfeiting issues," Mnuchin said. "Based upon this, the $20 bill will now not come out until 2028. The $10 and the $50 will come out with new features beforehand."

The explanation led to sharp rebuke from Representative Ayanna Pressley, Massachusetts' first black woman elected to Congress, who accused the Treasury secretary of allowing "Trump's racism and misogyny to prevent him from carrying out the will of the people."

The Treasury Department via a spokesman defended the new timeline for the $20 bill's redesign, saying in a statement that "issuing new notes is not a political process... [T]he only consideration with regard to the redesign schedule of our Nation's currency has been security and potential counterfeiting threats," they added.

The Treasury IG's review will take approximately ten months to complete, according to Delmar.

This story was updated to clarify that the Treasury IG's review will be conducted by expanding the scope of an existing audit of the agency and not part of a separate investigation. A statement from a Treasury spokesman was also included.