Will “Hamilton” Win Big? Its Namesake Already Inspired a Lot of GAO Work

GAO_Logo-squareAlexander Hamilton has quite the legacy: he was the first Secretary of the Treasury; he created a plan for managing the national debt; and he is now the inspiration behind the Tony Award-nominated musical, Hamilton.

In anticipation of this Sunday’s Tony Awards, the WatchBlog shares some of the GAO reports that are in the front row center of this founding father’s institutions and policies.

Hamilton’s Treasury: then and now

Hamilton designed the Department of the Treasury not only to collect and disburse public revenue, but also to spur economic growth in the young country.

Treasury’s responsibilities have grown since Hamilton’s time, and we have followed the drama. For example, we recently reviewed several new offices and activities within Treasury, including

photo of the treasury building

Hamilton establishes the national debt (spoiler alert)

In one song from the musical, Hamilton incurs the wrath of fellow Revolutionary hero, Thomas Jefferson, by planning to review the new nation’s financial position, establish its credit, and reorganize the national debt. Jefferson feared that Hamilton’s initiative, the First Report on the Public Credits, would increase both the political power of the new federal government at the expense of the states and the economic advantage of the commercial north over the agricultural south. Despite Jefferson’s strongly held views, Hamilton’s plan prevailed and grew with the nation.

While we weren’t around to review that first report, we are now regularly on the Hamilton audit trail, annually reviewing the nation’s finances. We also provide an overview of federal debt and the long-term fiscal outlook that federal, state, and local governments face.

Brother, can you spare a cupronickel?

In 2014, the U.S. Mint—a bureau of the Department of the Treasury—produced about 13 billion coins for circulation. These coins are a far cry from the ones produced in 1792, when Alexander Hamilton first championed the creation of a national Mint and Congress passed the Coinage Act. Then, coins were made of gold, silver, and copper.

What would the first Secretary of the Treasury think of the current composition of U.S. coins?

  • photo of the treasury buildingThe penny is 97.5% zinc, with the remaining 2.5% a copper plating.
  • The nickel is “cupronickel,” an alloy of 75% copper and 25% nickel.
  • The dime and the quarter each consist of three layers of metal–a copper inner layer and two identical outer layers, which are a silver-colored 75% copper alloy.

Alexander Hamilton might be surprised that the penny and nickel now cost more to produce than they are worth, largely because of the cost of metal. In 2010, Congress required the U.S. Mint to begin evaluating using new metals to reduce the cost of making coins. Congress has required that any new coins work in existing coin-operated machines, such as vending machines, “to the greatest extent practicable,” and Treasury officials told us they’ll include such considerations if they make recommendations to Congress to change the composition of coins.

Guns blazing over the Election of 1800

Hamilton died in a famous duel with Aaron Burr, his longtime political rival. Thankfully, these days, few politicians try to settle party politics by challenging their rivals to a personal gun duel. Over the years, we’ve reviewed gun laws, and have found that, among other things, depending on where you live and where you travel, your ability to carry a firearm varies greatly across the nation.


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