Felix, Larry R.
Larry R. Felix(?)—
U.S. government administrator
Larry R. Felix became director of the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C., on January 11, 2006. Although the bureau had a long record of hiring African Americans, he was its first African-American director. His extensive experience in both the bureau's complex technical operations and its interface with the public made Felix a logical choice for the top spot. The position placed him at the center of rapid changes in the production of United States currency and other documents subject to counterfeiting attempts.
Felix was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, but came to New York City when he was a child. He grew up in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, one of New York City's so-called specialized high schools with competitive admission requirements. Enrolling at the New York City College of Technology, known as City Tech, Felix worked his way through school, holding a job as a financial investigator at the Irving Trust bank (now part of the Bank of New York).
After being named Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) director, Felix pointed to his time at the school as an important experience. "City Tech was a formative part of my career in that I learned how to relate to people who were very different from me," he was quoted as saying in the school's online "News & Events" newsletter. "The students came from so many different countries and cultures and were the most diverse group of people I ever saw." Many of them, including Felix himself, were the first in their families ever to have graduated from college, and he felt inspired by an atmosphere in which his fellow students thought anything was possible. Students in two particular departments made a special impression: "I saw the sense of enthusiasm that the hospitality management and advertising design students exuded and it rubbed off on me," he explained, as quoted in the City Tech newsletter.
Attracted from an early age to public service, Felix volunteered for the campaign of a slate of student government candidates during his senior year. "It taught me how to communicate and deal with an organized communication effort. We developed an agenda and held public forums and conferences on issues," he recalled in the City Tech newsletter. Felix graduated from City Tech in 1980 with an associate's degree in liberal arts. He also earned a degree from the City College of New York, and in the early 1980s he took courses toward a doctoral degree in political economy at Columbia University.
Around 1984, however, he headed for Washington for a job in the U.S. Treasury. When he moved to the BEP in 1992, he was employed by the Treasury Department's Savings Bond division. At the BEP (also a division of the Treasury Department) Felix became part of a government agency with a long record of hiring African Americans, even in the period after the Civil War when no other government jobs were open to blacks. He began at the BEP as manager of marketing and over the next 14 years ascended through a series of positions involving steadily greater responsibility, gaining familiarity with both the technical operations of the bureau and its public relations functions.
In the late 1990s, Felix served as the BEP's director of external relations. This made him the visible face of the bureau, often meeting with the press, during the beginning of a period of major change in the design of U.S. currency. Paper money had looked essentially the same for decades, but the availability of high-tech anti-counterfeiting measures stimulated a redesign of most bills, beginning with the $100 bill in 1996 and proceeding to the $50 bill and the popular and frequently counterfeited $20 bill by 1998. The new bills, which included such innovations as color-shifting ink that appeared in different colors when viewed from different angles, sometimes caused problems with automated equipment, and it was Felix's job to coordinate the shift with manufacturers and to reassure the public about the transition.
Felix later became associate director for technology at the BEP, and he served as chair of an inter-agency Currency Design Task Force that planned a second round of new currency designs that began to appear in the mid to late 2000s. These included the introduction of colored ink (other than green) on U.S. bills for the first time, as well as a fresh set of anti-counterfeiting devices. All you need is a finger," Felix told the Christian Science Monitor, referring to counterfeiters' use of increasingly accurate color copiers. "We're adding complexity and colors…just to thwart the use of the finger."
In 2004, Felix became the deputy director of the BEP, with supervisory responsibility for a staff of 400 scientists, engineers, and other technicians. In January of 2006 U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow named him the bureau's new director, succeeding Thomas Ferguson. "My daughter said to me—it is hard to believe there is still a first Black of something," Felix was quoted as saying in Jet. "I just want to make sure I am not the last." In the new position, Felix oversaw not only paper money but all other U.S. government documents with security features, including U.S. postage stamps, Treasury securities, military identification cards, and immigration and naturalization certificates. He supervised two BEP facilities, one at the bureau's Washington headquarters and the other in Fort Worth, Texas, that produced 35 million pieces of paper money daily.
The pace of change only picked up after Felix assumed his new duties; the bureau's efforts to use technology to stay ahead of counterfeiters were accelerating. He announced plans for redesigns of most U.S. banknotes every seven to ten years (the one-dollar bill was left unchanged). "We had three generations of engravers who spent their entire careers at the bureau and never saw their designs hit the streets," Felix observed to USA Today as new $100 bills with striking security threads were unveiled. "Now since 1996, we have all of these changes." A hands-on manager, he was a recognizable face at BEP facilities as he traveled to meet the workers responsible for the agency's daily operations. In the summer after he became director, he announced the creation of ten internships for students from City Tech, with the possibility that those internships could lead to permanent positions at the bureau. Felix lived in northern Virginia with his wife and two daughters.
At a Glance …
Born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; raised in Brooklyn, NY; married; children: two daughters. Education: New York City College of Technology, AA, 1980; College of New York; Columbia University, graduate study.
Career: U.S. Treasury Department, 1984(?)-; U.S. Savings Bond division, 1992; U.S. Treasury Department, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, manager of marketing, director of external relations, associate director for technology, chair, inter-agency currency design task force, deputy director, 1992-2006; director, 2006-.
Awards: New York City College of Technology, Alumnus of the Year award, 2006.
Addresses: Office—Office of the Director, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Department of the Treasury, Washington, DC 20228.
Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2006, p. 20.
Jet, March 27, 2006, p. 4.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), August 21, 2007, p. 5.
USA Today, August 26, 2007.
Westside Gazette (Fort Lauderdale, FL), May 11-17, 2007, p. B5.
"African Americans Continue to Play a Key Role in Production of U.S. Currency," Unity First African American Newswire,http://www.unityfirst.com/pressreleasecurrency.htm (September 22, 2007).
"Alumnus Larry R. Felix '80 Appointed Director of U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing," New York College of Technology,http://www.citytech.cuny.edu/aboutus/newsevents/archivednewsevents/2005-2006news/felix.shtml (September 27, 2007).
"City Tech Honors Larry Felix as 2006 Alumnus of the Year," New York College of Technology,http://www1.cuny.edu/forum/?p=776 (September 22, 2007).
"Larry R. Felix: Director," Bureau of Engraving and Printing,http://www.moneyfactory.gov/section.cfm/2/372 (September 22, 2007).
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