Just about every Monday, Dick Gregg and his staff of 10 gather around three telecopier machines and a dozen telephones in two rooms of the Washington Building to borrow billions of dollars.
It is possible Gregg has borrowed more money than anyone else in history. Last year he borrowed more than $500 billion, the year before about $400 billion, all in his unflaging efforts to refinance old debts or create new ones and keep the government running.
Gregg, the assistant commissioner for financing in the Treasury Department's Bureau of the Public Debt, is literally responsible for keeping the government floating when it spends more than it has.
The national debt, as of last Friday, was $969 billion. It will doubtless reach $1 trillion sometime this year after Congress goes through the embarrassment of approving yet another increase in the legal ceiling, now set at $985 billion.If the government has to stop borrowing, it has to stop.
Gregg and his unrelated boss, William Gregg, depty commissioner of the bureau, have nothing to do with deciding how much money must be borrowed or whether it will be borrowed with bonds, notes or bills. Those decisions come from a committee of movers and shakers across 15th Street NW in the main Treasury building.
But once that is done, Dick Gregg said, "We prepare a public announcement and invite banks to bid.The Federal Reserve banks act as our agents and we sit down and conduct the auction."
What happens most weeks is that each of the 12 federal reserve banks takes bids from its customers and forwards them to Washington. The bidding usually closes at 1:30 p.m. Washington time and most of it is done in the last few minutes as the money lenders seek the latest possible information before computing the interest rate they are willing to accept for the use of their money.
After the last bids reach Washington, usually before 4 p.m., Gregg and his staff go through the bids and buy money, starting with the cheapest, until they reach the total required for the week. They don't quit work until they are through figuring that out, usually by 5 or 6 p.m.
At a normal auction, about twice as much money is offered as is needed, which means there are winners and losers. After they have been determined, Gregg produces one of the financial community's most popular prss releases, the one that tells the "winning" interest rates for the auction.
That's the exciting part. The rest of what the Bureau of the Public Debt does is service accounts by keeping track of securities issued and returned. The bureau has 2,100 employes: the 1,200 in Parkersburg, W.Va., do nothing but keep track of savings bonds.
"We're essentially a service organization," said William Gregg. "We have managed to get by without a lot of press."