Promoting National Security Through Financial Security

By Twig Mowatt

Kevin Toner

Kevin Toner left MITRE in 2001 to pursue an MBA and was less than a week into a graduate program in finance and public policy at the Wharton School when 9/11 shook his world.

"That was a moment that made me question my priorities," he says. "There I was at this very nice school contemplating a career move to the banking sector, while so many others lost their lives. At a deep level, I realized my calling: promoting national security through economic strength."

As a finance major—and someone who previously managed the finances for a $1.6 billion space program for the U.S. Air Force—he understood that economic security contributes directly to national security. He became determined to apply his skills and experiences to protecting the nation.

That's exactly what he's done since rejoining MITRE in 2003 as a business analyst. He's currently in charge of a wide portfolio of programs for the Departments of Treasury and Commerce and other important financial and economic regulators that remain classified. In aggregate, they support the nation's economic security and stability.

In the past, Toner has worked for a range of sponsors including the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Health and Human Services. In April 2020, he expects to add the Securities and Exchange Commission to MITRE's growing list of sponsors who benefit from our expertise.

U.S. Currency as Global Reserve: "An Exorbitant Privilege"

Toner focuses on a common underlying theme for every task: "Every project I undertake has the overall goal of securing U.S. economic supremacy globally," he says. "Our ability to project power financially can prevent wars."

He's currently working to ensure that the U.S. dollar remains the secure international currency standard. Much as English is spoken worldwide, so the U.S. dollar is the global benchmark currency.

As such, it gives the U.S. economy a critical advantage over its foreign counterparts through seigniorage and lower borrowing costs to U.S. businesses, U.S. citizens, and the government itself. The advantage is so great that in 1965, the French Minister of Finance, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, deemed the advantage our currency provides to the U.S. "an exorbitant privilege." By some estimates, the dollar's global hegemony adds between $40 and $80 billion to the U.S. economy every year.

The U.S. dollar has achieved this position due to the sheer dominance, transparency, and global reach of the U.S. economy. But China is poised to surpass us in as little as 10 years, perhaps sooner given the global economic volatility caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Reserve currency is only one element of our global power competition with China, and at MITRE we can buoy the U.S. economy by making our dollar safe, accessible, reliable, technologically superior, and convenient to do business with," Toner says. "One way to do that is by making it harder to counterfeit."

Designing Paper Bills that Thwart Counterfeiters

In fact, he's working on just that. For the last five years, his portfolio has supported Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing to create banknotes that are much more challenging to counterfeiters. While the details are sensitive, these features are added by using MITRE's expertise in manufacturing engineering, materials engineering, and testing design.

Not only will these bills be more secure, but they will also be easier for the visually impaired to use. That's because the next generation of banknotes will incorporate raised tactile features to help the visually impaired differentiate a $10 banknote from a $20, as well as new security features to prevent counterfeiters from making realistic facsimiles.

Toner's team is testing a series of distinctive raised, tactile features for many U.S. banknote denominations. The new bills have proven to be effective during MITRE-led testing involving hundreds of people with vision difficulties.

In addition to this work, Toner is involved in efforts to promote a safer, better-informed, more predictable business environment domestically. This includes improving the way the U.S. Census provides data to millions of businesses and entrepreneurs, helping develop the strategy for Commerce's Office of Space Commerce to promote U.S. businesses in space, and identifying opportunities to improve intellectual property protections for U.S. businesses at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

He also supports the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in providing reliable data for weather forecasting, which is a key enabler for the entire economy. Businesses from farms to commodity exchanges depend on reliable data to manage operations.

"I hope that in whatever I do," Toner says, "I'm integrating finance and economics into national statecraft."

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