Opinion

Why One Member Is Not Enough For Postal Board Of Governors

As of earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service no longer has a Board of Governors. It’s now just a Board of Governor – or simply a governor.

Two members’ terms expired earlier this month, leaving only James Bilbray, a former Republican congressman from Nevada, on the board, along with Postmaster General Megan Brennan and her deputy, Ronald Stroman.

Two new presidential nominees – David Michael Bennett and David Shapira – are being held up. So are three members who have been renominated – Jim Miller, Mickey Barnett and Stephen Crawford.

The board can’t have more than five members from either party, and both parties are represented among those held up.  

Not surprisingly, it is one of the senators running for president who is holding up the nominees. But it’s not the senator one might think. It’s Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is angry about slippage in the Postal Service’s on-time delivery record and wants to restore thousands of postal positions and even reintroduce banking at post offices.

The board has not had anyone approved since 2010 and has not been able to field a quorum since 2014, when it dropped to just three confirmed members. It has been operating under a “temporary emergency committee” since – with Chairman Bilbray, Postmaster Brennan and deputy Stroman as the only remaining members.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., who wants to offer legislation to reform the Postal Service and reduce its prefunding requirements, says he can’t move forward with fixing things until there is a board in place.

He didn’t point the finger directly at Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, but he did blame “obstruction in Congress” for letting the service “twist in the wind” fiscally.

This comes at a time when the Postal Service could use a full and functioning board. It hasn’t had a profitable quarter since 2006, has used up a $15 billion line of credit from the Treasury and has lost more than $50 billion in the last seven years.

Supporters claim the Postal Service’s balance sheet is a victim of the requirement imposed by Congress that it prefund its retirement benefits to avoid a government bailout. But the Postal Service has never paid the entire amount required for a given year and has paid nothing into the fund in nearly five years. Its unfunded liabilities now total nearly $100 billion by some estimates.

It is in the market now for nearly 190,000 new delivery trucks – designed to accommodate its growing but unprofitable package shipment business.

Its fiscal problems have led to the Postal Service losing a third of its full-time workers since 2012. It issued new guidelines for what constitutes on-time delivery that virtually eliminated one-day delivery for even the closest of neighbors. Now, against the more lax standards, it has some of its worst on-time delivery rates in decades.

The Postal Service’s ancillary businesses have focused on major metropolitan areas, and its monopoly business of delivering first-class mail to American homes has suffered, particularly in rural areas. A consortium of rural state senators, including Sanders, has been meeting of late to plot ways to restore service to less-populated areas.

Carper, in fact, has introduced the Improving Postal Operations, Service, and Transparency Act of 2015. The legislation, cosponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., would “place the Postal Service on firm financial footing, stabilize and improve service performance, allow for the development of new products and services and enhance transparency,” according to a release from Carper’s office.  

David Partenheimer, the Postal Service’s spokesman, said the USPS remains “confident in our ability to operate the Postal Service through a temporary emergency committee,” but acknowledged “A full board made up of well-qualified governors with diverse perspectives is best suited to ensure the interests of the American public are represented in accordance with the policies set forth by Congress in the postal statute.”

As Carper pointed out, no private business could get away operating with a one-person board – its investors would demand the positions be filled. And the Postal Service particularly needs the oversight in light of recent decisions.

For example, the Postal Service says it is delivering packages seven days a week in more than 650 cities because serving “the needs of valued customers in today’s busy online world … generates new revenue for the Postal Service.” But it also says it could save $3.1 billion per year if only Congress would let it cut delivery of first-class mail on Saturdays. If it helps profits to deliver packages on Sundays, how could it hurt profits to deliver mail on Saturday, especially considering its highest-margin product across all markets is home delivery of first-class mail?

Then, there is the matter of Metro Post, a same-day delivery service piloted in San Francisco and New York. The Postal Service’s inspector general found only 95 packages were sent through the service over a five-month period in San Francisco. The Postal Service spent $10,288 and earned $760 – a loss of $9,528. It naturally wants to expand the service in New York.

These are the kinds of things that can happen when board positions aren’t filled. The Postal Service truly does need the business acumen those board members bring. It truly does need those diverse experiences. It truly does need Sen. Sanders to quit playing politics and let these members be approved.