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The government had planed to introduce a new $100 bill early next year. The complex new design is meant to foil counterfeiters. The problem is it's already foiled the machines that are supposed to print it.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: Last spring, the government was very proud of its new design for the $100 bill, the first to feature the signature of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. So proud of it, they created a special website, newmoney.gov, complete with video and audio.
In case you've ever wondered, this is the sound of the government printing money.
(Soundbite of printing press)
NAYLOR: The most distinctive feature of the new note is a blue ribbon running down the front of the bill, just to the right of the portrait of the man who gives the Benjamin its moniker, Ben Franklin. It's a kind of a holograph with the number 100 and a sketch of a bell.
The government produced a series of podcasts to help explain the new feature. In this one, Dawn Haley of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing explains to an interviewer, introduced only as Dave, how it works.
Ms. DAWN HALEY (Chief Officer, Bureau of Engraving and Printing): This is the ribbon right here.
Ms. HALEY: And right now, you'll see bells and 100s.
DAVE: And 100s.
Ms. HALEY: And as you move it, some of the bills will turn into hundreds.
DAVE: OK. I see. So I'm looking for this kind of motion on the ribbon to know that my note is genuine.
Ms. HALEY: You are definitely looking for the motion.
Ms. HALEY: This note is all about movement.
NAYLOR: But right now, the new notes aren't moving anywhere. They're in storage vaults at the bureau's facilities in Washington and in Fort Worth, Texas. The problem? Many of the new notes have been found to have creases on them. It's kind of what happens with newspapers sometimes or magazines. There's a crease down the middle of the page. And while you can read the print, if you pull on the page, the crease unfolds, and there is a blank spot - acceptable in your daily news maybe but not so much on your hundred dollar bill.
The government noticed this problem with its new hundreds a while back and announced in October it was delaying their introduction. But as CNBC first reported yesterday, not before they printed 1.1 billion of them -110 billion dollars worth.
George Cuhaj knows his money. He's editor of the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money. Cuhaj says there's a lot riding on the new hundred dollar bill.
Mr. GEORGE CUHAJ (Editor, Standard Catalog of World Paper Money): It's a technology that's new to them, so there's a learning curve there, and they have to just print huge amounts of them because the day that it rolls out, it's going to have to work in every ATM machine, and it's going to have to be distributed throughout the world.
NAYLOR: Responsibilities for the new bills are parceled between the Treasury's Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which prints the notes, and the Federal Reserve, which distributes them. No one from either agency would talk on tape or on the record. But in the podcast, Haley foreshadowed the problems in the new note.
Ms. HALEY: The more complex we can make a note, the higher the hurdle is for those counterfeiters to try to duplicate, and we're very proud of this note because it's going to be very difficult.
NAYLOR: Officials do say the number of bills that will have to be destroyed is a small fraction of those already printed. As one put it, there's a lot of hard work being done to fix the printing problem and to figure out how to sort through the stacks of notes and get rid of the bad ones. In the meantime, the government is printing more of the old-style Benjamins.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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