Making the World's Most Important Currency Secure and Accessible

April 2019
Chris LoGrasso
Chris LoGrasso working on his computer

For Chris LoGrasso, cash isn't just something to spend on a cup of coffee. It's an ever-evolving technological marvel filled with unique design and security features.

It's also his job.

LoGrasso manages MITRE's support to the U.S. Currency Program. The ongoing program ensures that U.S. currency is the most sophisticated, secure, and recognizable in the world.

He works with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP)—the agency that designs and supplies the United States' paper money, called banknotes. The BEP is on a mission to modernize and integrate how it designs and prints U.S. banknotes, which includes researching potential improvements. LoGrasso and his team bring a diverse pool of talent to the BEP, with disciplines ranging from multidisciplinary engineering, cybersecurity, and social sciences to perform research, testing, analysis, and more.

"The BEP is currently designing and producing a complicated series of banknotes for public release in the next few years," LoGrasso explains, "and we're helping them explore creative and efficient ways to do that."

This work gives him the chance to apply the expertise in high-volume manufacturing and quality engineering that he gained earlier in his career. 

"I was in the semiconductor world, where production volumes were in the hundreds of millions of units. By comparison, the U.S. produces billions of units of currency every year." 

And each of those units must meet demanding criteria. "Quality and reliability are absolutely critical when dealing with the world’s dominant reserve currency," he says.

Currency for Those with Disabilities

One of MITRE's roles is to evaluate and explore proposed banknote technologies. For instance, the BEP developed different versions of a raised tactile feature (RTF) prototype to help the blind and visually impaired community identify and denominate U.S. currency solely by touch.

The BEP asked MITRE to test different manufacturing technologies for an RTF design within the blind and visually impaired community across America. MITRE researchers met with hundreds of legally blind individuals at five locations to get feedback on the different RTF options and to test their ability to determine the denomination of various bills based on each feature. 

"The BEP is using our findings to select a manufacturing methodology, as well as to refine the placement and design of the RTF on a future release of banknotes," LoGrasso says.

Preventing Fraud from Damaging the World's Dominant Currency

MITRE is also helping the BEP with an ever-evolving challenge: counterfeiting. 

"BEP continually works to stay ahead of technologies being developed that could simulate a banknote feature," LoGrasso says. "That way, the U.S. can proactively reduce counterfeiting." 

"U.S. currency is the world's most dominant reserve currency. So, maintaining trust in the credibility of U.S. currency has effects beyond financial security—worldwide."

MITRE also brings to the BEP's attention cutting-edge technology—some developed by MITRE and some by other organizations—that could help improve banknote security.

"We evaluate research as well as provide insight into potential new research areas for U.S. currency a few generations out—some of which we know about through our work for other federal agencies. The BEP views us as a trusted and objective adviser."

Rewarding Work with a Great Team

For LoGrasso, his work is immensely satisfying. "It's something I can be proud of when I go home at the end of the day," he says. "And it's exciting to be part of the evolution of U.S. currency. There are so many fascinating possibilities."

He's also enjoying the teamwork aspects of his job with his sponsor and team. "I get to work around some of the smartest people I've ever met, and it's a bonus that they're as excited about the mission as I am."

He doesn't hesitate to recommend MITRE as a great place to work. "MITRE supports such a diverse group of projects that someone from virtually any field could find meaningful work here." 

—by Marlis McCollum

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