Board of governor appointees offered few details, say they have a lot to learn about Postal Service operations.
Two nominees to the U.S. Postal Service board of governors pledged to protect the agency as a public entity while avoiding service cuts for customers, though both conceded they had a steep learning curve ahead of them to familiarize themselves on postal issues.
Lee Moak and Bill Zollars, both nominated by President Trump to fill two of the five current USPS board vacancies, told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee they had little familiarity with the intricacies of the Postal Service. They repeatedly pledged to learn and engage in research when asked questions from lawmakers about what prescriptions they had to improve the cash-strapped agency’s financial standing.
“I am not a postal expert and I am still only at the beginning stages of understanding the Postal Service’s current challenges,” Moak said, adding he would draw on his experience solving complex issues requiring engagement from stakeholders with different agendas.
Moak, a former president of the Air Line Pilots Association who served on various advisory committees associated with the Federal Aviation Administration, said he was just beginning to understand the agency’s ongoing problems but in preparation for the hearing had “reviewed some of the information detailing the complex financial and service challenges.”
Zollars said his private sector experience helping to turn around YRC Freight, a shipping company headquartered in Kansas where he spent 15 years, would help him learn quickly on the job at USPS.
“Although I do not have an in-depth knowledge of the Postal Service, I am anxious to learn as much as possible,” Zollars said, noting he would focus on how to leverage areas of the agency’s competitive advantage.
Both nominees spoke of the importance of the USPS workforce and vowed to engage it in future decision making. Zollars said he helped lead YRC to four consecutive years of profitability “by working in concert with our union workforce on a strategy focused on mutual success.” Moak also promised to work with postal unions.
“We do our best work when we have the USPS postal workers working with management telling the board, advising the board, on the best way to do it,” he said. “Workers, labor and management working collaboratively together is a key element of success.”
When pressed for details on improvement plans, the nominees often resorted to vacuous rhetoric and repeated talking points.
“I’m not a postal expert,” Moak said at one point. “I work very hard and I'm intense in my drive to get these problems solved.” He later added: “The solution to this problem is everyone has to recognize they have a part in it. First, identify all the challenges here and get everyone to step up in a transparent fashion, decide how to go from A to B. I believe it’s very doable. Then, make sure we have a way to get from A to B.”
Zollars laid out some more specifics, noting he has previously dealt with issues USPS is facing such as unfunded liabilities and cost disadvantages. In preparation for the hearing, he said, he “learned that there are some very complex problems” facing the agency. He repeatedly noted that in his last job he was often asked whether he wanted to cut costs or improve service and his “answer was always yes,” meaning the two proposals were not mutually exclusive.
“It’s not an easy problem to solve,” Zollars said. “It has to be broken down into pieces. But I think it is solvable.”
Both nominees said they would look to bring all stakeholders together to put together a business plan and that the mailing agency would have to realize benefits from that plan immediately. Asked how the Postal Service could address the issue of raising costs—something Trump has strongly advocated in recent months—Zollars again avoided detail, saying the agency must “deliver service that is acceptable to the customer at an acceptable price.”
Zollars suggested the Postal Service should reduce its physical footprint around the country, but must do so without affecting its output for customers.
“Any network optimization that’s done must be done without jeopardizing service to the residents of the country,” he said. “And I think that can happen.”
The confirmation hearing came amid significant turmoil in USPS leadership and after its board lost its quorum this week. USPS is set to welcome a new postmaster general later this month after Megan Brennan steps down from the post. Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman retired at the beginning of the month. That followed David Williams resignation from the postal board, who stepped down in May over the Trump administration’s heavy-handed role in the agency’s business decisions. Williams was seen by many stakeholders as a valuable member of the board due to his experience as a former inspector general for USPS and several other agencies. Just before his resignation, the board submitted a request to Congress for $75 billion in financial relief to offset losses resulting from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate committee is set to vote on the nominees next week.