Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, asked the Treasury Department’s inspector general on Wednesday to open an investigation into delayed design concepts of a new $20 note featuring the image of Harriet Tubman that were set to be unveiled next year.
The Trump administration has faced backlash after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that design concepts of a $20 bill featuring Tubman would not be released next year and that the new note might not even include her when it does come into circulation, most likely in 2030.
The New York Times revealed last week that design work on a $20 featuring Tubman’s portrait had started before President Trump took office and extended into last year, leading to questions about whether the note was being stalled for political reasons.
In a letter to the inspector general, Mr. Schumer noted that the Empire State Building was constructed in a little more than a year and expressed doubt that it should take the Treasury Department more than a decade to roll out a new $20 bill.
“We do not know the real reason for these decisions, but we do know that during his campaign, President Trump referred to efforts to replace President Jackson’s likeness on the front of the $20 note as ‘pure political correctness,’” Mr. Schumer wrote. “Secretary Mnuchin attempted to explain the delay as necessary to accommodate anti-counterfeiting measures, but it is simply not credible that with all the resources and expertise of the U.S. Treasury and Secret Service, a decade or more could be required to produce a new $20 bill.”
Mr. Schumer added that unnecessary delays of the new note, especially for political reasons, are “improper and unacceptable.”
Rich Delmar, Treasury’s acting inspector general, said in an email that he is reviewing the request.
A former slave and abolitionist, Tubman had ties to the state of New York, having moved her family to Auburn, N.Y., from Canada in 1857.
In 2016, Jacob J. Lew, President Barack Obama’s final Treasury secretary, announced after soliciting public feedback that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 and that a smaller image of Jackson, a former slave holder, would be moved to the back of the bill. Under a timeline set forth by Mr. Lew, design concepts of the new bill were scheduled to be released in 2020, on the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.
In May, Mr. Mnuchin said at a congressional hearing that the design imagery of the bill would not be ready until 2026 because of the complexity of creating new anti-counterfeiting measures. He would not commit to Tubman ever appearing on its face and said that a future Treasury secretary would make that decision.
Mr. Mnuchin has denied delaying the process and said in a statement last week that Treasury and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing remain committed to the schedule of new $20 notes going into circulation by 2030.
Len Olijar, the director of the bureau, said that, for security reasons, design concepts of a new $20 note were never going to be released next year and that “everything remains on the table” regarding whose portrait will be on the new bill. Mr. Olijar said that the image of a $20 note that The Times obtained featuring Tubman’s portrait, which was created by the bureau, was not an advanced design concept.
After Mr. Trump took office, the Treasury Department removed from its website all mentions of Tubman or the planned changes to the $20, $10 and $5 notes that the Obama administration set in motion. Mr. Mnuchin had said little on the subject until he was pressed about it during a House Financial Services Committee hearing last month.
The delay of the new design has prompted calls for the Trump administration to follow through in adding Tubman to the note and bipartisan legislation in the House that would require the Treasury Department to do so next year.
Requests from Congress for inspector general inquiries do tend to yield responses. Mr. Mnuchin’s department has faced internal investigations into the secretary’s travel practices and into his handling of an analysis of the Republican tax cut legislation. The inquiry into Mr. Mnuchin’s air travel found he broke no laws in his use of military aircraft but lamented the loose justification provided for such costly flights. The tax cut analysis investigation found no evidence of any improper political interference with the career tax staff.
Mr. Schumer is asking for a review into the interagency process for the new $20 note, including input from the White House, the Secret Service and the Federal Reserve, to ensure that “political considerations have not been allowed to infect the process for designing American currency.”
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.