Trump's Postal Task Force Has Recommendations Ready for the President

Carolyn Kaster/AP

A task force commissioned by President Trump to recommend steps to put the U.S. Postal Service on firmer financial footing has finished drafting a report, according to an administration official, and is preparing to brief the president on it when he returns to Washington, D.C.

The executive order that created the task force, which Trump signed in April, gave the group four months to deliver its recommendations. That deadline was set for Aug. 10. The task force plans to deliver the report to the White House this week, a Treasury Department spokesperson told Government Executive, and will provide the president with a briefing next week when he is expected to return from New Jersey.

“The task force on the United States Postal Service has conducted outreach and engaged experts and stakeholders to evaluate the operations and finances of USPS, including with USPS personnel, customers and suppliers; economists; and corporate finance analysts,” the spokesperson said. “We have prepared our recommendations for reestablishing a sustainable business model for USPS.”

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Trump tapped Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon and Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to head up the task force, but their staffers have led the charge. The group held meetings over the summer with an array of stakeholders, industry groups and employee representatives.

While the report is completed and expected at the White House by Friday’s deadline, multiple individuals engaged in discussions with the task force told Government Executive the administration will not make it public immediately. The report is already being circulated within the administration, those individuals said, but the White House will not widely release it for at least a couple of weeks.

The task force is by all accounts playing its cards very close to the vest, with no details of its proposals making their way out to the groups it met with over the last few months. Stakeholders expect only that the report will make some mention of the administration’s reorganization plan, which included a proposal to privatize the Postal Service once it regains profitability. That plan was met with rebuke both in Congress and in the mailing community, with criticism that it undermined the diligent work in which the task force appeared to be engaging.

Mike Plunkett, a former USPS vice president and current president of PostCom, an association of large-scale private sector mailers, who has twice met with the task force, said the member organizations he has heard from are “anxious.”

“They know this is coming and are eager to see specifics,” Plunkett said, “while aware that any real change most likely requires legislation that would be a challenge. I think there is hope that this will be a catalyst for some needed changes, but that [have] been elusive.”

Trump’s order came after the president for months criticized USPS for its contracts with Amazon that he deemed overly friendly to the online retail giant, and some met the announcement with skepticism. Initial reviews, however, suggested that the task force representatives are engaging in open dialogue and conducting an honest search for solutions. Stakeholders who met with the group said Amazon did not come up in their conversations.

A newly formed group, the Package Coalition, which, like PostCom, counts Amazon among its members, launched last month to push back on any efforts to privatize the Postal Service or target the package industry as the primary source for boosting revenue. John McHugh, a former Army secretary and member of Congress who helped draft the last major legislative postal overhaul in 2006, is leading the group’s efforts. McHugh said that after its initial frenzy of meetings, the task force has “gone quiet” in recent weeks. In the meantime, his coalition has been holding meetings with lawmakers and looking for opportunities to spread its view that package delivery is one of USPS’s “lone bright spots.”

Congress already has its own ideas on how to fix the Postal Service. Bills in the House and Senate would eliminate the agency’s mandate to prefund future retirees’ health care benefits—lump sum payments on which the Postal Service has defaulted for the last few years—by shifting retirees to Medicare as their primary care provider and amortizing remaining liabilities over the next 40 years. They would provide a permanent boost to USPS prices, potentially reduce the agency’s liability to the Federal Employees Retirement System and allow it to pursue new lines of business.

McHugh and others welcomed Trump’s involvement as a potential “impetus” to finally push postal reform, various iterations of which have been introduced for several consecutive sessions of Congress, over the finish line. Still, stakeholders are keeping a careful eye on the process to ensure the task force’s report does not lead to last-minute changes to existing legislative proposals they find untenable.

“Impetus is one thing,” McHugh said. “The best possible outcome is something else. That’s why this coalition exists, to try to maximize opportunities for the best possible result.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is set to hold a hearing on the task force’s findings once they are widely released. The hearing was originally scheduled to occur within days of the executive order’s Aug. 10 deadline, according to individuals apprised of those plans, but has since been pushed back, likely until September.

Trump asked the task force to submit both administrative and legislative recommendations that do not shift any costs to taxpayers and “consider the views” of the Postal Service’s workforce, customers and competitors. The president directed the group to evaluate the decline of mail volume; the growing role and pricing for package delivery; the agency’s impact in rural areas; and the general state of its business model, workforce and operations. Perhaps most controversially, Trump said the task force should examine the definition of its congressionally mandated obligation to provide universal service “in light of changes in technology, e-commerce, marketing practices and customer needs.”

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