President Trump’s nominees to serve on the U.S. Postal Service’s governing board promised during a confirmation hearing Wednesday to challenge the president's assumptions on the relationship between the mailing agency and Amazon, saying they will advocate for the truth irrespective of any White House pushback.
The hearing came as Trump has for months criticized USPS for its contracts with Amazon that he deemed overly friendly to the online retail giant. It also followed an executive order the president issued last week creating a task force to examine the Postal Service’s finances, business model and workforce and develop recommendations to right the agency’s ship. The nominees would join a board of governors that is currently absent any of its nine slated Senate confirmed members.
The nominees, whose experience ranges from long careers in the federal government and with USPS to exclusively private sector work, all promised to consider the facts of Amazon’s various deals with the Postal Service rather than any preconceived notion. Asked by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., the ranking member of the committee holding the hearing, if they would confront the president on his erroneous claims, all three nominees said they would examine the data and report what they found.
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“We have to follow the facts and the facts will lead us to the truth and that will be what we advocate for,” said Robert Duncan, who currently serves as Trump’s chairman on the Commission on White House Fellowships. Duncan, who also served in the George H.W. Bush White House and as chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority, was introduced at the hearing by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said he and Duncan have long-standing personal friendship.
“I’m willing to do the right thing and I will challenge any assumptions,” said Calvin Tucker, who currently leads a private financial consulting firm and served as a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention.
McCaskill expressed concern Trump would use his recently created task force to create an echo chamber.
“I’m just concerned presidential task forces sometimes tell presidents what they want to hear,” the senator said.
While no one at the hearing backed up Trump’s claims that Amazon is ripping the Postal Service off, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky,. and David Williams, the third nominee, said there could be room between what USPS is currently charging and the rate that would incentivize the company to build its own delivery system.
All of the nominees also promised to engage with all stakeholders in the postal community, vowed to boost workforce morale and called for immediate congressional action on postal reform legislation. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who co-sponsored a recent overhaul bill, successfully got all three nominees to say they could not accomplish what they hoped to without such legislation.
“We’re sending you on a mission that’s doomed to failure without a postal reform bill,” Heitkamp said.
While some critics have accused Trump of using his task force as a means to privatize the mail system, all of the president’s nominees committed to protecting a robust public Postal Service. Williams called on the agency to expand its offerings, including by helping citizens and businesses embrace the “digital global era.”
“I suspect that the Postal Service leaves much of its value to the nation on the table,” said Williams, who spent 13 years as the Postal Service’s inspector general, a role he has also held at the Internal Revenue Service, Housing and Urban Development Department, Treasury Department, Social Security Administration and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Williams added that previous efforts to slash USPS workers became “reckless” and it was time to “take care of them.”
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Williams likely came to postal board as its most qualified nominee ever. “You know where the bodies are buried and you probably buried some of them,” Portman said.
Duncan said he would approach the position with an open mind rather than specific recommendations, but spelled out areas he planned to examine: the agency’s governance structure, the universal service requirement, delivery frequency and standards, rates, rural service commitments and efforts to block the delivery of illegal opioids.
The board has been without a quorum for four years, a position in which it would remain even if all three of Trump’s nominees are confirmed. Currently, only the postmaster general and her deputy serve on a temporary emergency committee that the board authorized before losing its quorum in 2014. McCaskill said one more nominee is currently under consideration, which would give the board the six members it requires to conduct normal business.
None of the senators at the hearing committed to voting for the nominees, and McCaskill threatened to hold up their confirmation until USPS shares more information with her office about its deals for “last-mile delivery” with UPS and FedEx. She also criticized the committee for moving forward with only Republican nominees, as no more than five of the nine Senate-confirmed board members can be from the same party. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., however, appeared comfortable with the nominees and has been a key voice on postal issues in the Senate.
“We look forward to working with you to move forward,” Carper told Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the committee’s chairman.