Postmaster General Megan Brennan, shown here in 2011, will retire on January 31, 2020.

Postmaster General Megan Brennan, shown here in 2011, will retire on January 31, 2020. Evan Vucci / AP file photo

U.S. Postal Service Chief to Step Down

Outgoing postmaster general led the agency during "very challenging circumstances."

The head of the U.S. Postal Service will retire early next year, the agency announced on Wednesday, marking the end of a 33-year career at the mailing agency. 

Postmaster General Megan Brennan will step down on Jan. 31, 2020, more than three decades after starting her career as a letter carrier. The first-ever woman to lead USPS will retire five years after she took over the job from her predecessor, Patrick Donahoe. 

Brennan led during a tumultuous time for the Postal Service as she attempted to steady a ship thrown increasingly off course by precipitously declining mail volume. She helped stem the bleeding of the USPS workforce after the agency had for years dramatically slashed its rolls in an attempt to “rightsize” its personnel costs to match decreased revenues. Still, the Postal Service continued to see billions of dollars of annual losses throughout her tenure, even while ecommerce drove new revenue streams in the shipping and package business.

Brennan helped strike a delicate balance by bringing together an array of disparate interests—rural and urban, large business and non-profit mailers, management and labor, conservative and liberal—on a framework to legislatively overhaul the Postal Service to put the agency on firmer financial footing, but was never able to gain enough momentum to push those proposed bills into law. 

USPS has not yet named a successor, though Brennan said she has given enough notice to allow the board of governors—which only recently reestablished a quorum after years without one—time to search for a replacement and “ensure a seamless transition.” 

“When I was appointed postmaster general, I made a commitment to the board of governors that I would serve for five years and it has been my absolute honor to do so,” Brennan said. “I feel a deep responsibility to this organization and to its future.”    

While the postmaster general typically manages USPS and its 635,000-person workforce with a board consisting of herself; her deputy; and nine presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed members, Brennan has operated with only a small fraction of that for nearly her entire tenure. In one recent stretch, only Brennan and her deputy served on the board. She acted to propose the largest stamp price increase in history, to slash employee compensation and to give her agency autonomy in setting its own prices. The rate hike went into effect but was recently ruled illegal in federal court, while the other proposals have not gone into place. Brennan also weathered a task force established by President Trump to reform the Postal Service, whose proposals—including one to privatize the agency—were largely ignored by lawmakers. 

“Megan Brennan is a devoted public servant who has helped lead the U.S. Postal Service through some very challenging circumstances,” said Robert Duncan, the USPS board chairman. “The governors greatly appreciate her leadership and devotion to the Postal Service.”

Brennan oversaw some promising moments for the Postal Service, including several years in which the agency turned a “controllable” profit (controllable income does not account for expenses beyond the influence of USPS management, primarily a congressional mandate to prefund retiree health benefits and adjustments to workers’ compensation costs). That streak ended in 2017, however. In its most recent financial disclosures, the Postal Service saw a decline in shipping and package volume for the first time in nine years. 

The Postal Service highlighted Brennan’s enhanced use of data and technology, innovations in products and services and improved processes as part of her legacy. The agency added she “fully engaged and leveraged the talents” of the workforce. Duncan specifically noted Brennan’s role in making changes to the international mail system, which the Trump administration recently negotiated through the United Nations’ postal agency. 

“She has been a strong advocate for postal employees and customers,” Duncan said. “In the months to come, the governors will conduct a nationwide search for the 75th postmaster general of the United States, while continuing to work with Postmaster General Brennan through a successful holiday season and a seamless transition in leadership.” 

Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said Brennan’s successor must have a trust in USPS employees and the organization itself. 

“The APWU calls on the board to appoint a [postmaster general] deeply dedicated to the public good and the public Postal Service and who respects the contributions, safety, well-being and union rights of postal workers,” Dimondstein said. “We need a postmaster general committed to protecting universal service to every person, no matter who we are or where we live and to expanded postal services such as financial services and vote by mail.”