The Youngest U.S. Treasurer Ever Is Banking on a Family Tradition
updated 06/01/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/01/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Despite her age (she is the youngest Treasurer in history), "Bay" Buchanan is no newcomer to either politics or the department. She is the third generation of her family to have worked at the Treasury at some point, and Pat Buchanan, the columnist and ex-Nixon speech writer, is her brother. She herself started as an accountant for Citizens for Reagan in 1976, winding up as treasurer of the Reagan-Bush campaign—which, remarkably, ended in the black. After the election she asked to be made U.S. Treasurer and promptly got it. "It certainly is great to be able to call you Mr. President," she told Reagan the first time she saw him after the Inauguration. "You wouldn't be able to call me that if it weren't for all the hard work you did," he replied. Her office now boasts a glossy of the President inscribed, "Dear Bay: Pretty soon I'll be carrying your signature in my pocket."
Buchanan is the ninth woman in a row—starting with Georgia Neese Clark, under Harry Truman—appointed U.S. Treasurer. The $50, 112-a-year job, which has been mainly ceremonial, will soon have more substance. Buchanan will run the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Mint, being responsible for a $227 million budget, and she is also charged with boosting sales of U.S. Savings Bonds, which have declined because of the low (now nine percent) interest rate. "I would like to see legislation that would give bonds a more flexible rate," she says, "to bring them in line with their competitors." She is also promoting limited-run commemorative coins (a George Washington half dollar will be the first since 1954) and dealing with the problem of counterfeiting, especially the threat of fakes made on improved color copiers. "There are a number of devices we're looking at, such as watermarks or some kind of line that would show up only if it was Xeroxed," says Buchanan. She has already announced that the copper penny will soon turn zinc, to save money. "The coin will be 19 percent lighter," she says, "but look the same."
A native of Chevy Chase, D.C. and one of nine children of accountant William Buchanan, Bay grew up to the jingle of money talk. She majored in math at Rosemont College near Philadelphia and got her master's in the subject at McGill in Montreal, after taking time off to work for Nixon's reelection. In 1974, depressed by Watergate ("Nixon was someone I had worked for, and to see him crumbling was difficult"), she moved to Australia, spending a year and a half as an accountant, then joined the Reagan team. During the campaign, she claims, "I worked so hard I had to get an assistant to balance my own checkbook."
At 5'9½", Bay is an excellent tennis player ("I'm competitive"), but her new job doesn't leave time for anything more than jogging four times a week. Recently she cut her office schedule from 70 hours to 50 "to make room for a social life," but there are other problems with that. "Men my age are somewhat intimidated by my job," she says. Essentially low-key, she was uncomfortable in her grand office at first, and she still is startled when "people line up and ask me to sign their dollar bills." But her biggest quandary was whether to sign the money as Angela or Bay, the nickname she acquired because "one of my brothers couldn't pronounce 'baby.' " Her father sternly insisted on the proper name.
When the first new dollar bill rolls off the presses, Buchanan expects she may have to fight her boss, Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, for it. And she has already muffed one grab for a collector's item: She never thought to keep the pen she used for the original engraving. What kind was it? "I don't remember," she says, "but it was a ball-point."