As the U.S. Postal Service gears up for its busiest time of the year, Congress has delivered a significant blow to its top leadership.
The Postal Service is, by statute, supposed to have nine governors on its board to make major decisions for the agency. It currently has just one.
Such is the fate bestowed upon the struggling USPS by Congress, which has refused to approve new members appointed by President Obama. Several of the nominees are not actually new, but have instead been re-nominated after already serving in the positions. Still, none have received a vote on the Senate floor, and with two more governors’ terms expiring Tuesday, the Postal Service has just one confirmed member on its board of governors. The postmaster general and her deputy also sit on the board, creating 11 total slots.
Last year, the board lost its ability to field a quorum when it dropped to just three confirmed members. It has been operating under a “temporary emergency committee,” which the board created to avoid being left completely powerless when it lost its quorum. That committee is now made up of just one confirmed member -- Chairman James Bilbray -- as well as the postmaster general and her deputy.
The board of governors is designed to be bipartisan, with federal statute preventing more than five members from belonging to the same party. Bilbray, a former Democratic congressman from Nevada, is no longer constrained by that design. The Postal Service acknowledged that is problematic.
The board “continues to function” with just one confirmed governor and three total members, said Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman. “However, the role of the governors in ensuring the Postal Service’s ability to effectively achieve its statutory responsibilities is simply too important for there to be only a single governor in office.”
The Postal Service will continue to fulfill its obligations, Partenheimer added, but will “strongly urge” the Senate to confirm the five governors nominated by Obama and approved in committee.
“A full board made up of well-qualified governors with diverse perspectives is best suited to insure the interests of the American public are represented in accordance with the policies set forth by Congress in the postal statute,” he said.
Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a postal advocate and author of a bill to overhaul the agency, said Congress has made the uncertainty created by a lack of postal reform “even worse” by failing to confirm more governors to the board.
“This is negligence on the part of Congress,” Carper said. “This would never occur in the private sector because shareholders would demand oversight from a strong board to protect their investment. Congress has failed to protect postal customers.”
The Senate has not confirmed a member to the board of governors since 2010. Presidential candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is reportedly holding up the current nominees over concerns that they plan to further degrade postal services.